The Truth About Cars » Ask the Best and Brightest The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 11:00:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Ask the Best and Brightest Ask The Best And Brightest: How Do You Handle Recall And Service Bulletins? Mon, 21 Apr 2014 15:53:54 +0000 cobalt report 19

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your pal,


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Which Automaker May Be Fudging Their EPA Numbers? Fri, 02 Sep 2011 17:12:34 +0000

The Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel economy testing system is notoriously weak, relying on self-reporting for the vast majority of vehicles, and exhibiting vulnerabilities to “gaming.” But rather than attacking each others’ EPA numbers, automakers seem to have agreed that it’s best if everyone does their best to juice their own numbers and allows the imperfect system to limp on. But over at Automotive News [sub], we’re hearing what could be the first shots fired in a new war over EPA ratings, as Product Editor Rick Kranz reveals that an OEM is starting to complain about another OEM’s fuel economy ratings. He writes:

An executive of one U.S. automaker suggests there might be some sleight of hand going on and that the EPA is not catching the offenders.

The issue: There’s a noticeable difference between the mpg number posted on some cars’ window sticker and an analysis of the data submitted by automakers to the EPA.


Kranz continues:

The executive raised a red flag earlier this year. He told me his company was unable to replicate the city, highway and overall fuel economy numbers achieved by some automakers for their 2011 car models.

He didn’t name the automakers or the car models in question. Neither would he give the percentage differences between the mpg numbers posted on new-car window stickers and an analysis of the data taken from dynamometer readings his company purchased for certain competing models.

But he said consumers are being misled. The mpg numbers on some window stickers or in advertising are being misrepresented, he said.

Here’s the thing: if an executive is complaining about another OEM gaming the EPA test or somehow fudging its results, this executive must be extremely angry or frustrated. After all, a weak EPA testing regime benefits all automakers at the expense of customers. And if someone is willing to blow down the EPA’s house of cards, there’s no knowing where the fallout could end. There are basically three possibilities:
1) The accusing executive has the wrong end of the stick, and is just lashing out without cause.
2) The accusing executive is on to something and an automaker is fudging its EPA numbers.
3) The accusing executive is on to something, and he’s just scratching the surface of a problem infecting a large part of the industry.
As fuel economy becomes a bigger factor in car-buying decisions, the EPA needs to recognize that there is more riding on its weak, “faith-based” fuel economy testing regime than ever. It should not only investigate this allegation, but it should perform supplemental targeted verification tests on vehicles with “suspiciously high” fuel economy ratings. Consumers need to trust their window stickers, and if there are rumors of gamesmanship around the production of those numbers, competitive pressure will spread deceptive practices around the industry. This needs to be nipped on the bud.
So, in hopes of helping the EPA get a handle on this situation, I ask the B&B to share their thoughts about what automakers might be fudging their numbers. What vehicles would you spot-test to see if they can achieve their window sticker numbers?
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Your Nominations Please: Announcing The 2010-2011 Lutzie Awards For Outrageous Auto Exec Quotes Mon, 29 Aug 2011 22:57:05 +0000

Whether agree that automotive PR needs to take more risks or you think it takes more than enough risks already, we can all enjoy the outlandish quotes that do emanate from industry executives in spite of the protective PR-professional bubble that surrounds them. And though TTAC has only had the institutional follow-through to hold a single “Lutzie Award” in the past, I figured that next week (when I’ll be presenting a flood of content based on my extended rap session with Maximum Bob) would be the perfect opportunity to bring them back. And in order to do so, we need you, our readers, to make the nominations. So fire up the search engine of your choice, and hit the jump for nominating criteria and the rules of this year’s awards.

The basic premise of the Lutzie awards is simple, and has not changed since this site’s founder first laid them down:

The Lutzie is our award for the industry executive who made the most outlandish statement or statements, demonstrated a total disconnect with reality and/or inserted their pedal extremity firmly into their oral cavity with alarming regularity. We’re looking to you for nominations, starting today. Tell us who you think is most deserving of the award and give us a quote that illustrates their worth in a comment below.

Nominations will stay open through Friday of this week, and then TTAC’s editors will narrow the list down to our ten favorites. On Wednesday of next week (technology permitting), we’ll announce our official ballot and open voting for 48 hours. We will then announce our winner with great pomp and circumstance, bringing glory to the waywardly loudmouthed winning executive. One final rule: because it’s been a long time since we’ve held these awards, nominated quotes can come from any time between 1/1/10 and 8/31/11. Good luck to all, and may the most outrageous quote win!

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Covering Your Rear (Engine Sportscar) With An Extended Warranty? Tue, 23 Aug 2011 17:01:47 +0000

TTAC commentator stephada writes:

Hello I drive a 2010 C4S, bought new, now with 42k miles and I am considering an Extended Warranty through a company called Protected Life, sold through the Porsche dealership. My service manager said they used to not offer this because they had trouble finding one that could cover things well enough, until they found Protected.

I’d like the Best and Brightest to weigh in on the specific example I’m facing. I’ve read the original B&B thread but it dealt with the issue philosophically and generally. I trust the B&B can help out again in my choices, as they did on the question of ”S or 4S?” [Ed: follow-up here].

The details in the agreement are numerous, but the highlights are, that in addition to (of course) not covering wear and tear like brakes, anything without a functional need is not covered, such as: upholstery, trim, paint, glass, belt, air bags, and exhaust emissions. Anything to do with a manual clutch is also not covered (but the PDK in my car would be covered).

They pay full rate for the high-dollar Porsche parts and labor. I would bring in the car and the experience would be the same as I now have under factory warranty, except with a $200 deductible.

The costs are +3 years/100k miles total for $5100, +4 years/100k miles for $6700, +5 years/100k miles for $7600.

This would include a tow service up to 25 miles (then mileage), tire repair, $75/day trip interruption expenses, and $50/day rental car.

What do you think? These aren’t cheap but neither is a new engine. If you just sneeze in the dealership service department, it’s a thousand bucks.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Year End U.S. Car Sales – What’s Your Number? Mon, 15 Aug 2011 15:14:13 +0000

A  few days ago, you saw GM’s Dan Akerson start his slow climbdown from the 13 to 13.5 million cars GM’s crystal ball reflects as sold in the U.S. by the end of 2011. He told a German paper that “there is the danger of a new recession.” Asked whether he would still stick with his lofty projection, Akerson answered: “Currently, we maintain the forecast, but we think it will be the lower range of our prognosis.” Akerson receives cover for his tactical retreat from Edmunds, which today headlines:“2011 Sales Will Be Close To 12.9 Million.” Pretty close to the GM forecast, no? So what’s the problem? Wait until you read the rest of the story ….

The prediction comes from Jeremy Anwyl himself, CEO of usually right-on Edmunds. Looking forward, Anwyl is a little perturbed. He goes into a long analysis of the perils of consumer confidence, the stock market, “the Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the U.S. credit rating, some to fears of a domino-like cascade of European sovereign debt defaults, and some  general fears of global economies slowing down.”

Then Anwyl takes his and our lifeblood to task, the Internet.

“As I noted in a previous column, we live in a world of 24/7 access to information. Thirty years ago, I would have come home in the evening and gotten my news in one 30-minute dose. This gave me time to absorb and put it into context. Today, news is everywhere. And to get eyeballs, there is every incentive for news outlets to emphasize an extreme version of the news. We – as individuals, as organizations and as a society – have not yet learned how to modulate this barrage of inflated information.“

“This also magnifies the effect of negative feedback loops. Even if the global economic fundamentals have not changed much in the last 30 days, the political antics and ratings downgrades have generated plenty of news. This news has hit the financial markets and this generates even more news. Next, the extreme gyrations themselves become news.”

“If it were just markets that bounced around, it would just be interesting, but consumers are part of this feedback loop as well.” 

Look, Jeremy, this is the Internet, and people have the attention span of young puppies. So how many cars are Americans really going to buy? Anwyl thinks pent-up demand will be victorious:

“Most importantly, there seems a high degree of “need to buy” in today’s car marketplace. Consumers have deferred and delayed purchases: first from the recession and more recently from high prices triggered by the earthquake. Even a small slowdown in sales will push prices down quickly to normal levels – and even lower. There are good odds vehicle buyers will find enough opportunity in the market to keep sales at least as high as recent months. This may not be enough to result as high as’s 2011 sales forecast of 12.9 million vehicles, but it should be close.”

Oooops. So it will be less than 12.9 million? But close? How close? Anwyl isn’t telling. Instead, he prunes a monster hedge:

“Things could still break either way.  Recent reports on employment seem very mildly encouraging.  Corporate profits are still strong.  A positive effect of the fears raised in the last few weeks is that commodity prices have stabilized and even fallen. The fears that a U.S. debt downgrade would push up interest rate seem misguided, at least in the short term.  And the financial markets may regain their footing.”

So what now? More than 12.9 million? Less than 12.9 million? The suspense is unbearable.

Best & Brightest: What say you? What is your end-of-year number for U.S. new vehicle sales? Whoever comes closest to the real number will get a one year free subscription to TTAC.




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Quote Of The Weekend: Heavy Duty Demand Edition Sat, 13 Aug 2011 22:21:11 +0000

In his New York Times comparison of heavy-duty pickup trucks, Ezra Dyer opens with a provocative comparison:

Heavy-Duty pickup trucks are the supercars of the truck world. They have more power than drivers are likely ever to exploit, and bragging rights depend on statistics that are, in practical terms, theoretical.

How does he figure?

While you can’t buy a diesel engine in a mainstream light-duty pickup, heavy-duty pickups now offer propulsion suitable for a tandem-axle dump truck.

I’m not exaggerating. Ford’s 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel V-8 packs 400 horsepower and 800 pound-feet of torque; the base engine in a Peterbilt 348 dump truck offers a mere 260 horsepower and 660 pound feet. Does your pickup really need more power than a Peterbilt?

I’m guessing most HD truck owners won’t take kindly to the question, especially coming a scolding Gray Lady. But if you read the full review, you’ll find that Dyer was able to locate at least one contractor willing to admit that he realized he just didn’t need his HD’s overabundance of ability. It goes against the grain of the “bigger, faster, tougher, more” marketing message that has helped make trucks such a huge part of the American market, but is it possible that the tide is turning? Have pickups improved too much? The huge sales of Ecoboost V6-powered F-Series certainly suggests the we may just be moving towards a more pragmatic truck-buying market…

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Can The Used Market Stay This Crazy For Long? Thu, 11 Aug 2011 21:33:48 +0000

About a month ago, TTAC’s Steve Lang hipped readers to the fact that used car prices had grown like crazy, and that the time to sell that old car had come. Now the mainstream media is starting to wake up and smell the 30-weight, and the wires are flooding in with stories of used car prices gone wild. The LAT reports that Kelley Blue Book values have risen an average of 16% per year in the 2008-2011 period. Autotrader saw 13 of their top-20 CPO models add at least a grand to their prices in the last month alone. And  Bloomberg reports that 2011 BMW Dreiers and M3s now cost only $34 per month more than year-old models, and that new Corvettes can actually be had for $12 per month less than year-old models according to data. Considering an Acura TL? New models are typically $18 less per month than year-old versions. So what’s going on?

New lease sales fell to 1.96 million in 2008 and 1.13 million in 2009, according to Manheim. Lease originations that averaged 2.78 million during the previous 10 years dried up as lenders such as GMAC Inc. and Chrysler Financial Corp. withdrew financing offers.

Leased vehicles’ input to used-vehicle supply will be 2.08 million units this year, a 40 percent drop from 2002 levels, according to Manheim. Off-lease volumes will keep declining through at least next year, to 1.53 million, Manheim says.

Sales to rental fleets, which fell to 1.13 million vehicles in 2009 from more than 2 million in 2006, may not exceed 1.5 million until after this year, according to Manheim. The 2011 contribution to used-vehicle supply from rental fleets will be about 1.4 million vehicles, a 30 percent drop from 2005 levels.

But here’s the real question: how long can this last?

Steve argued persuasively that prices were going to come down, and that fuel efficient used cars were going no-sale at auctions because of their high asking prices. But, consistent with TTAC’s out-of-the-mainstream opinions, a lot of analysts seem to disagree. Edmunds’ Joe Spina tells Blooomberg

 I don’t expect any dramatic decreases in used prices for at least 18 months.

AutoNation’s Mike Maroone adds that

Used pricing will show “continued strength” [because] demand from price-conscious buyers that was already strong because of the slow economic recovery was exacerbated by Japan’s production disruptions and the shortages of new vehicles that followed.

NADA Used Car Guide automotive analyst Jonathan Banks tells

Looking ahead, we anticipate that light truck values will do well during the upcoming quarter primarily due to the stability in gas prices and very low used supply. We were already anticipating a 6-percent increase in truck and SUV prices from used supply alone. If the current gas price situation continues, there may be room for prices to increase even more

Manheim Consulting’s chief economist says

 The shortage of low-mileage used models “will last for some time.”

But, given the market’s self-determining nature, these echoes of the “high used prices are here to stay” theme could in itself signal the end of the run-up. In the spirit of Steve’s brave look into the future, I’m wondering where you see used prices going over the next year or two.


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Ask The Best And Brightest: Where Are You In The Driverless Car Debate? Tue, 09 Aug 2011 20:02:07 +0000

When news hit late last week that one of Google’s driverless cars had been involved in a minor fender-bender, the anti-autonomous driver argument made itself. “This is precisely why we’re worried about self-driving cars,” howled Jalopnik.”Google’s self-driving car seems like the ultimate distracted driving machine.” But on the very same day, Google claimed that

One of our goals is to prevent fender-benders like this one, which occurred while a person was manually driving the car [emphasis added]

Before you know it, the other side of the debate, as epitomized by Popular Science flipped the argument, insisting that

this incident is yet another example — as if we need one — of the human capacity for error. Hopefully when cars do take over, they’ll be able to prevent these types of incidents on their own.

So yeah, there’s a pretty wide range of opinions on the issue. And with Nevada’s legalization of driverless cars, it’s only a matter of time before something happens that busts the debate wide open again. So, how do you feel about our new robot overlords? I, for one, could live with the technology for freeway/expressway use… but not without drawing some kind of clear lines around legal liability. Off-freeway? No thanks. Too few benefits from packing traffic tighter and too many other variables in traffic. What say you?

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Should Trucks Be Limited To The Right Lane? Thu, 04 Aug 2011 16:40:41 +0000

As a telecommuter, I don’t drive as much as many Americans do, but I’ve come to the conclusion that lane discipline in this country (or at least in my part of it) is a huge problem. Traffic is frustrating in all circumstances, but unnecessary congestion caused by drivers who act without any apparent awareness of traffic around them is by far the most frustrating. And, in many cases, unnecessary congestion is caused by light-duty vehicles being held up by trucks, or slow-moving traffic clogging the left lane because of trucks passing in the middle lane.

Jalopnik takes on the issue of trucks in traffic with a piece entitled What you don’t know about the truck driver you just flipped off, which argues that truckers are overworked, overregulated and under financial pressure to deliver quickly. And though I sympathize with the plight of long-haul truckers, I don’t believe they should be allowed to leave the right lane.

The problems that the Jalopnik piece points out are issues endemic to a highly competitive industry: freight companies put pressure on their drivers to deliver on-time, even if they are held up in loading and limited to 68MPH. The argument then, is that because freight companies put impossible conditions on their drivers, the rest of traffic should feel honored to let the poor driver hold everyone else up while he passes a truck going two or three miles per hour slower than him. It’s a compelling argument if you look at it emotionally, but at the end of the day, doesn’t that sympathy just validate the abusive practices of the freight companies?

There’s a better way: in European countries, where trucks are strictly limited to the right lane, freeway traffic moves admirably (although some of that is due to the god-like lane discipline exercised by all drivers). Even in California, where the California Vehicle Code prevents trucks from leaving the right lane unless there are at least four lanes of traffic, the difference in interstate traffic caused by slowly passing trucks (compared to, say, Oregon) is distinctly noticeable. And if trucks are strictly forbidden from passing, the freight companies simply can not put unrealistic expectations on their drivers. And since, as the Jalopnik piece points out, experienced drivers are leaving the business at alarming rates, it’s clear that the industry needs to put less pressure on its employees anyway.

There are two ways to do this: one, require that all trucks stay in the right lane unless there are at least four lanes. Another: ban speed regulators that keep trucks under (say) 70 MPH, preventing trucks from needing to pass slower trucks as often. With both of these measures, freight firms wouldn’t be able to put unrealistic pressure on their drivers, trucks would no longer have to pass each other for an extra one or two MPH advantage, and the rest of traffic wouldn’t feel the need to flip off their hard-working fellow citizens. It sounds win-win to me… but what say you?

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Is Aston-Martin A Bit Old Hat? Tue, 02 Aug 2011 17:41:49 +0000

Ian Callum, designer of the Aston-Martin DB7 (along with the new Jaguars and numerous other gorgeous things) is a really, genuinely nice guy. But even nice guys have their limits, and having seen his groundbreaking Aston design evolve with the morphological dynamism of a sturgeon over the last 17 years, Callum appears to have reached his. Bloomberg reports:

It’s still that same old basic design,” Ian McCallum, who designed the DB9 and is now design director at Tata Motors Ltd. (TTMT)’s Jaguar Land Rover unit, said in a July 27 interview. “Some will argue that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But you do get to a time when you have to move on.”

Sadly, there are a few factual distractions to deal with here before we dig further into Aston’s predicament. First of all, though a Scot, the man’s name is Callum, not McCallum. Also, it’s not clear how much of the DB9 was styled by Callum, and how much was finished by his successor, Heinrik Fisker. Clear? OK, back to Aston…

The problem facing Aston is summed up by Andrew Jackson of the research firm Datamonitor:

The models are starting to have a slight whiff of Sunday dinner being used in sandwiches later in the week. It leaves the impression of a company stretching itself as far as it can. In the industry that they operate in, with their competitors, they really need to be cutting edge.

The stuck-in-time, across-the-line styling is part of the problem. A platform that was the talk of the enthusiast committee in 2003 is the other part. A resurgent, Callum-designed Jaguar lineup doesn’t help. Plus, split-the-difference “new” models certainly don’t mask the scent of death well, nor do Toyota rebadges. The prosecution rests.

And what of the defense? Well, all Astons may look the same and be technologically outdated, but they’re still pretty damn good looking. Also,

“All the projects that we are doing have to make a profit,” Chief Executive Officer Ulrich Bez, 66, told journalists at the company’s Gaydon headquarters. “We can’t afford a project that is just a marketing tool.”

The strategy has pushed up the average price of Aston Martin cars 49 percent to 104,000 pounds last year from 70,000 pounds in 2007, the company said at the July 6 briefing.

By recycling technology and using engines from Ford, Aston Martin can keep costs and development times down. That’s secured Aston Martin a profit margin of about 20 percent, nearly double Mercedes’s 10.7 percent return on sales in the second quarter.

Twice the profit margin of Mercedes? That’s nice, but how long will it last when

Daimler AG (DAI), the parent of Mercedes-Benz, plans to spend about 5 billion euros ($7.1 billion) this year on research and development. That’s more than eight times the Gaydon, England-based company’s revenue of 509 million pounds ($830 million) for the 12 months ended March 31.[?]

The sad irony of Aston’s flirtation with over-the-hill, passé status is that it still hasn’t held an IPO, but is waiting for “the right window” (i.e. when the market comes back). By the time that happens, could it be too late for the last independent global British sportscar brand?

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Hammer Time: The Eagle and the Phoenix Fri, 29 Jul 2011 16:47:54 +0000
I made my first fortune in Chrysler. Back in 1991 I bought 250 shares of the company at a mere $10 a share. It was all I had at the time and everyone in my family thought I was plain nuts. When it got to 12 I was a bit less nuts but definitely screwy. 15 and I was a lucky guy. It wasn’t until the stock hit $25 a share when they realize that if I had a knack for anything, it was following the auto industry.

By 1996 everyone and their dog was announcing the second coming of Chrysler. I sold my shares in late May 1996 at around $60 and bought the most safe and enduring investment of that time… a house. A lot of car companies have soared to the skies and plummeted to insolvency since then. My question for all of you today is…

Who’s next!

NOTE: Kia, Hyundai, Suzuki, Mitsubishi and Saab are yesterday’s news. I want your take on tomorrow’s Midas and minus.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Is A New Dodge Magnum A No-Brainer Or A Flop Waiting To Happen? Wed, 27 Jul 2011 20:43:37 +0000

A few weeks back, SRT CEO and Chrysler Group Design boss Ralph Gilles hinted that a new LX-platform station wagon could be coming back, as the NYT reported:

“With the Magnum, we owned the station wagon segment,” Mr. Gilles said. “It was always a pleasure to go to car shows and trade fairs and see the number of Magnums that owners had personalized with such obvious loving care.”

Asked if a design for a second-generation Magnum might be found in one of his sketch pads, Mr. Gilles just smiled.

“Stay tuned,” he said. “Great things are coming. That’s all I can say.”

But now Gilles is changing his tune completely, telling the Fox Car Report that the rumor simply came about because the launch event was held in California (one of the Magnum’s biggest markets), and Gilles noted that he saw them “everywhere” and that every one of them was customized. While noting that the he “needs to get to the bottom of that” customized Magnum phenomenon, Gilles made it clear that the “rumor” was just him waxing nostalgic and that “we’re focusing on the products we have.”

But if Chrysler is desperate to make inroads in California, and the Magnum resonated there, might there be some sense in a neo-Magnum? After all, Sergio Marchionne has noted with disapproval how few variations are available for the LX platform, and said he would not have re-invested in an update if it were up to him (and really, putting an LX update ahead of a good C- or D-segment platform was a pretty shockingly poor business decision). On the other hand, the Magnum only ever had one year over 50k units… and that might not even be worth the cost of even a rebody. What say you? dodgemagnum 300ctouring dodgemagnum1 300ctouring1 dodgemagnum4 300ctouring3 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Worth another try? dodgemagnum2 300ctouring2


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Ask The Best And Brightest: What Advice Would You Give “The Car Show”? Sun, 17 Jul 2011 16:59:49 +0000

Have you caught The Car Show yet? If not, the first episode is currently streaming at Hulu, so go ahead and waste part of your Sunday on a show that offers (according to Matt Farah) “everything you’re looking for from a proper British motoring show, but from a uniquely American perspective.” Having peeped the first episode myself, I’ve got some seriously mixed feelings…

On the one hand, it’s got a more freewheeling, diverse feel than Top Gear America. On the other hand, like TG:A, it’s still got some serious chemistry issues to work out. Whereas the quintessential “proper British motoring show” gels totally different personalities into a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts, The Car Show’s presenters don’t seem like they actually like each other yet, and seem too self-conscious for what should be a laid-back show. Carolla, Neil and Farah have a lot of potential as odd-couple representatives of car guy diversity (I still don’t know what Salley is on hand for), but all three still seem too caught up in looking funny, smart and cool respectively. They need to remember that a huge part of Top Gear’s appeal is that the hosts have perspective on the characters they are playing, which allows them to relax and have fun with their dramatis personae (Neil comes the closest to this in the “game show” segment, but it’s still hard to tell how much fun he’s having with his egghead car-nerd character). Also, I would have saved a LeMons episode for a later date, when the chemistry had congealed a bit better.

Otherwise, The Car Show seems to be America’s best answer to Top Gear to date, and I do think that it has the potential to be downright entertaining once its presenters develops some confidence and comfort with their characters (and perhaps make a few tweaks to segments like 0-60). But you may have a different perspective? Go ahead and let us (and, I’m guessing at least a few people involved with the show who read TTAC) know what you would do to make The Car Show a “proper motoring program” that America can be proud of.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Which Cars Need Less A-Pillar? Wed, 13 Jul 2011 17:52:33 +0000

Wards has a fascinating piece on the recent evolution of the A-pillar, starting with the aesthetic novelty of the B5 Passat and ending with the various roof crush and head-impact safety standards that are creating ever-larger and more vision-obstructing pillars. But is the added passive safety worth the trade-off in visibility, and therefore active safety? A researcher equivocates:

We lack quantitative models that express the safety cost of vision obstructions. We’ve worked on it, but it’s difficult to see the relationships in crash data. People are highly adaptive, and any vision effects are buried in other larger effects due to exposure and driving style.

Inspired by the write-up, I found that the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (Australia) has its own annual forward visibility rating system, and that it refused to give a single 2011 model-year vehicle a five-star rating (in a rare display of respect for the five-star system). Without a rating system of our own, I thought TTAC should embrace the subjectivity of the subject matter and pool its collective wisdom to help the automakers understand which vehicles need an A-pillar diet. Which vehicles feel the least safe in terms of forward visibility? Which need window inserts and which need to just slim down? Or have we reached the point where we need A-pillar cameras?

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