The Truth About Cars » Car The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 20:45:49 +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 » Car Piston Slap: “Spare” Me from Dry Rot! Tue, 11 Mar 2014 12:05:09 +0000

TTAC Commentator sastexan writes:

With the extreme cold throughout the US and seeing a few shredded tires on the highway this week (in fact, I had a flat myself – not sure what caused it but possibly doing donuts in the FR-S on a parking lot last week with lots of broken up ice on the edges), I got to thinking about spare tires.

Many of the Best and Brightest have “keeper” cars – myself included with our old Camry. Tires have limited lifespans due to dry rot, and I’m guessing spare tires are included in that category. The spare in the Camry is the original 14 year old tire (full size spare at least). How often do people change their spares, if ever? Has anyone with an aged spare had it blow out due to dry rot? Can you just order a new space saver spare off of tire rack?

Take care,


Sajeev answers:

Very interesting question, one that raises even more questions! Keep these in mind before we proceed:

  • Tires dry rot slower when living in an enclosed space with no exposure to sunlight (UV rays).
  • You may not see visible cracks like other rotted tires, but rest assured at some point the rubber has petrified like a rock.
  • The odds of getting stranded by a rotted temporary spare is less likely than an ordinary tire, as nobody wants to roll around on that tiny donut for an extended period.
  • Low air pressure can be the reason for a spare blow out, as they tend to leak profusely after a few years of hibernating in a trunk.
  • The items listed above will not necessarily apply to externally mounted spares in trucks/SUVs/CUVs. Treat those more like your other four wheels.

Externally mounted full size spare owners: change the tire every 5-10 years…more or less, depending on your risk tolerance and driving needs.  Or re-use one of your “old” tires as a spare when upgrading to new ones for your regular wheels. And if you are luckily to have a matching 5th wheel as a spare (or unlucky enough to have 5 steel wheels on your ride) just rotate it into the mix.

Externally mounted temporary spare owners?  Good question, as this is a future quandary of my little Ranger pick-em-up truck.  Then again, it might be similar to our next case…

Internally mounted spare owners?  Who knows the safe lifespan, but I’d wager that 10+ years is fine, since I’ve used the original spare in my Mark VIII for short distances in urban conditions. I’d change my tune if I was traveling hundreds of miles daily on rural roads…grabbing spare tires from crusher-bound Taurii and Fusions in the process.

Whenever you “internally mounted spare” folks are ready for new rubber, well yes, Tire Rack sells spares…but I’ll assume China’s finest off-brand donuts trade for less money from another vendor, as that happened when my 1983 Ford Sierra needed new tires in it’s unobtanium space saver-esque size for a measly $34 a pop.  Which is more than adequate for the job.

In the case of your Camry?  I say replace it (full size spare in the trunk) with one of the external tires when its time for new shoes. Or get a used tire from any local shop for $20-ish.  Or just make sure it’s inflated to spec and you drive SLOW (i.e. 50mph or less) for a short period of time. There’s no wrong answer here, unless you’re stranded in the middle of no where and must rely on a fresh tire to take you hundreds of miles away in a harsh climate.

As with everything in life, this Piston Slap boils down to: It depends.

So eyeball the rubber and keep it inflated to spec.  That’s a good start. Off to you, Best and Brightest.


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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Product Review: LX Dual USB Car Charger with Leather Grip Mon, 03 Feb 2014 13:00:22 +0000

The vehicles we aspire to own have one thing in common: timeless design over mere transportation: Ferraris over Fiats. CUVs instead of sedans, or personal luxury vehicles in lieu of a hatchback. So why not treat yourself to a leather-wrapped charging apparatus? IMG_2492 Oh yes, it charges your smartphone/tablet with precision…but where’s the passion in that? Let’s charge things up with a review enhancement to id America’s “LX Dual USB Car Charger with Leather Grip” with a two-pronged (get it? nevermind…) attack:

  1. Rename this stunning work of modern art with a more fitting title: ZOMG LEATHER USB CHARGER!!!1!  or “ZLUC” for short.
  2. Go down memory lane: showing how much better automobiles from several decades work with a ZLUC in their cigar holes.

And, for this Lincoln-Mercury fanboi, what better starting point than the famous 1961 Lincoln Continental? IMG_2484 As you can clearly see, ZLUC is a fantastic fit in one of the finest automobiles to grace American roads in the 1960s.  The leather-wrapped goodness shows itself off against the strong aluminum elements of the Conti’s dashboard.  Also note how ZLUC is intended for Apple products ONLY… Android users?  No leather wrapped chargers for you. In fact, do yourself a favor and close this browser (probably not Safari, either) and peep those all-plastic chargers on eBay. Philistine! I’m just kidding!  ZLUC’s packaging lists the following items as worthy of getting their electrons massaged by the tender luxury of leather wrapping, in this order:

  1. iPad
  2. iPad mini
  3. iPhone
  4. Tablets & Smartphones

So you Android and Windows people can indeed continue reading! IMG_2498 The Continental Mark III was well-known for the time a C/D scribe made it from coast to coast with no money, only promises to gas station owners underwritten by the sheer class of this stunning machine.  So how dare you consider any non-ZLUC phone charger to duplicate this trip today? IMG_2485 Note how ZLUC not only adds to the Mark III’s faux stitching with its REAL leather wrapping, the contrasting color actually matches the wood grain trim!  And when not needed, it hides easily in the ashtray binnacle so mere mortals who live without leather infused battery charging shall not be violently jealous of your elevated status. Like you Android users! IMG_2499 Obviously the pinnacle of personal luxury design was the late 1970s, before there was a cure for disco fever with downsized machines “from here to eternity.”  And obviously the Continental Mark V was the baddest of them all: three inches longer than a Ford Excursion when Cadillac was downsizing their rides for some stupid energy crisis. How will ZLUC fare against the toughest American Hustler? Could it possibly fail? IMG_2486 ZOMG DAT LEATHER AND WOOD!  You are an absolute fool to not rest your tired booty after a long night of coke snorting disco dancing in the super-classy interior of the Mark V, and let your iPhone recharge via leather wrapped battery rejuvenation! IMG_2489 Quite honestly, you need multiple ZLUC’s for every cigar hole in a Mark V!  Why you need TWO of these beauties for the rear of both door panels. IMG_2491 Did I forget the 1980s?  Hardly.  Yes the 1990s had mobile phones, but never such uncharted luxury as a USB charger wrapped in the same quality leather as the finest German machine of the era. Yes, the ZLUC smells as good as it looks! But I digress.. The futuristic center stack of the 1993-1995 Lincoln Mark VIII looks rather fantastic in its so good it’s almost not faux wood trimming, complete with ZLUC’s matching brown leather wrapping.  Also note the high-tech technology of the blue LED light on ZLUC’s face, proving it’s ready to take your mobile device to the next level… …with luxury in mind! 971620_10151508996138269_1350646760_n Why that leather wrapped charger is so fantastic I will never use my factory installed car phone again…ever!


But how timeless is this classic for one’s cigar hole?  Let’s put it to the ultimate test. IMG_2490 ZOMG TESTAROSSA LEATHER USB CHARGER!!!1!  As the photo shows, Crockett and Tubbs only need a ZLUC in Cocaine White Leather to completely dominate the Drug Trade! Is there a better way to look moody and intense while charging your iPhone? I think not! Can you imagine the great selfies Crockett could post on Instagram if his iPhone was connected to ZLUC? Hashtag that’s what’s In The Air Tonight!

So can you, dear reader, put a price on such perfection?  You fool, the ZLUC is priceless!  Or $24.99 plus shipping, available directly at id America’s suitably upscale website. Well, what are you waiting for?  A leather wrapped invitation to buy one of these babies for yourself?


(id America provided their LX Dual USB Car Charger with Leather Grip in brown leather for this review.)

IMG_2484 IMG_2498 IMG_2486 IMG_2491 IMG_2485 web_feature_lxcarcharger IMG_2490 IMG_2499 IMG_2492 IDPA201BRN_angle coverphoto IMG_2489 971620_10151508996138269_1350646760_n IDPA201BRN_front

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Piston Slap: Burnt Rubber Sienna? Mon, 27 Jan 2014 12:08:37 +0000

Mike writes:


Here’s a hot topic for you and the B&B. I have a 2006 Sienna LE (front wheel drive) that has been absolutely bulletproof and reliable for the past 140k miles, except for the tires. I run “all seasons” in the summer and winter tires on separate wheels in the winter. We drive about 10k miles in the summer and another 5-7k in the winter. We live in the Finger Lakes region of NY.

This thing eats any tire that I put on it.

I just took a pair of Cooper CS4s off the front that have less than 11k miles on them and they are completely worn out. I can get three seasons out of a set of 4 winter tires but the summers never last more than one season on the front. I get 20k or so miles from a set of 4. The alignment is good and the wear is very even. Rotating the tires doesn’t change the tire wear, it just delays it. Almost all of the wear occurs when the tire is on the front.

I’ve run Firestone FR710, Yokohama Avid Touring, Dunlop SP, Cooper Lifeliner; and Cooper CS4. They all are load index 98. Granted these aren’t the most expensive tire off the rack but do the ultra expensive high mile tires really last that much longer? All of the tires that I’ve purchased have a “warranty” of 60k miles or so. The CS4 is 80k.

It is a heavy vehicle (nothing mini about this van); my brother joked that maybe I should run LT tires on it. So I’m wondering, should I switch to tires that are marketed for SUVs? Tires in the same size have a load index of 102 so maybe they’d handle the weight better and last longer? They also cost 50% more; will they last 50% longer?

I know everyone has an opinion about tires, perhaps one from the B&B will be the nugget I’m looking for.


Sajeev answers:

Hell, if my 3200-ish lb Ford Ranger has LT tires (that wear like iron, still looking new after 20,000 miles) why not put them on a minivan that weighs 1000+lbs more???  If you are towing, carry a lot of cargo, etc. then perhaps LT tires are a good idea.

I poked around and found LT’s for both the 16″ or 17″ applications for similar amounts of cash as their passenger car brethren.

But one question remains: tire pressure.  Are you inflating to owner’s manual specifications?  Have you always used the same gauge?  Are you 100% sure that gauge is still accurate? I learned to not trust old gauges the hard way when a bad voltmeter (20+ years old) and the alternator problems with Fords (and lifetime warranty parts) from the 1990s ganged up to lie to me in a most convincing way.

Then again, I’ve fallen for dumber, far more obvious lies. My easily malleable life aside–and even with TPMS in mind–could this be the problem?

Buy a new gauge, the cheap ones (with the super handy magnetic end) at the service counter of Wal-Mart/Autozone will suffice. If the gauges aren’t lying, then get some LT tires.

Off to you, Best and Brightest.


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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Piston Slap: Getting Smart about Barn Finds! Mon, 25 Nov 2013 13:23:31 +0000

Justin writes:


As a classic car lover for the past few years, I’m always scouring Craigslist for 60′s cars and watching YouTube videos on automotive archaeology. It’s a lifetime dream to fix something special and drive it everyday. This being said, you can guess my reaction to hear that there is an abandoned yet 100% complete Sunbeam Tiger on one of my relative’s property in some shed.

Without boring you, the story goes that the old man that owned it payed storage “rent” to my relative to stow it away for his son or nephew (my family owns a few garages and houses on the same street). He eventually passed and the son/nephew refused to pay for the storage. There it sits, 3 to 4 years since he refused to pay up and disappeared.

I cant stop thinking about it.

What would you do? I want that damn car but nobody thinks its worth hiring a lawyer over the title. I’m also fairly certain my relatives will probably want more than I can offer for it, even if they eventually get the title somehow. I’ve tried to do some research on getting a title for it but it doesn’t seem to apply to this situation.

It’s strange how things work, mostly frustrating but still strange. I needed to share this with someone else before I explode.

Sajeev answers:

If you have the spare time–which you shall if you restore a Tiger–you can certainly research how a Lien Sale in your state works. When I had trouble getting my UK-spec Ford Sierra legal at my local Texas DMV, the manager came out to help. She was very helpful, to the point that information overload made me give up and secure a title company’s assistance…but my point about working without a lawyer still stands!

I wouldn’t be surprised if someone in our Best and Brightest applied for a mechanic’s lien, too. Probably a similar process.

Once you do the homework, you’re ready to get the Tiger titled. So what’s up with your family not hooking you up with an antique car they seemingly care less about? If you do the homework, perhaps you’ll be rewarded with that damn heap for cheap. If not, perhaps one party is being unreasonable and you should walk away. Hopefully not, but it wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened in a family…especially as the holidays roll around.

No matter, good luck in your Lien Sale. Hope it won’t drive you insane and the Tiger won’t drive you to the poor house.


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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Review: 2014 Mazda6 (With Video) Thu, 08 Aug 2013 17:20:17 +0000 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior

Whenever I talk to car shoppers, the Mazda6 comes up. No, it’s not because people are confused if it’s a “Mazda 6″ or a “Mazda6″ or a “Mazda Mazda6.” Although, it does top the Land Rover Range Rover Sport Autobiography for the strangest name on the market. (I prefer to call it a Mazda6.) The reason Mazda’s mid-sized sedan comes up, is because it seems to be a car often shopped, but rarely purchased. In June, it scored 14th in sales for the segment. Surprised? I was. Even the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger (9th and 12th place) outsold it by a wide margin. The low sales numbers piqued my interest enough that I hit Mazda up for a cherry red model to see why.

Click here to view the embedded video.


2014 brings Mazda’s new corporate grille to the Mazda6, and I have to say, it’s a beautiful schnoz. I was a little worried the gaping maw would be too large in person, (in pictures it looks enormous) but up-close-and-personal it has to be the second most attractive front end after the Fusion. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but during the week I was unable to find anyone who disagreed with me. So my opinion reigns supreme. I’m worried however, the proportions look perfect on the Mazda6, so what will the Mazda3 be like? Why am I worried? Because if you park the Mazda6 next to a CX-9 or CX-5, the crossovers look more cartoonish than if they park alone. Just like your girlfriend seems pretty until you park her next to Megan Fox. Although the 2014 model looks longer than the outgoing Mazda6, overall length has been cut by about two inches. Adding “visual length” as well as much-needed rear seat room, the wheelbase has been stretched by two inches to 111.4.

2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Mazda’s nose may be a notch below the Ford in my style-guide, but out back it’s a different story. I find the Fusion’s rump to be a little awkward. It’s almost as if Ford ran out of time and “hurried” the back end of their family hauler. Not so with the Mazda6 which has a finished look from the “raised eyebrow” tail lamps to the twin chrome exhausts. Thanks to the best butt in the business, I call the Ford v. Mazda beauty contest a tie. How about the Koreans? I never warmed to the Sonata, but the Optima is aggressive and attractive, just not as emotional as the Mazda6. Thanks to the low sales volume, the Mazda is also a step outside the ordinary, something that attracts me.

2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The British would have called the old Mazda6′s interior “cheap and cheerful” with shapes that failed to offend, but plastics that were far from premium. For 2014, Mazda increased the plastic budget and coated the interior with soft injection moulded material. Bucking the latest trend, Mazda skipped the stitching treatment on the dash, although you will find sewing machine tracks on the doors. ZoomZoom also nixed the faux-tree in favor of a black-cherry (or just black) plastic trim panel that bisects the tall dashboard. Aside from the infotainment binnacle that seems a bit too large for the screen, this is the most harmonious and simple dashboard in this segment. I hate to beat on the old Mazda6, but “simple and harmonious” is not a phrase I would have used.

Front seat comfort was excellent for my average six-foot frame, regardless of the trim level. In an interesting move, Mazda chose to make the base manual seat adjust in all the same ways as the optional powered seats. The inclusion of manual lumbar support on base seats is a nice touch as well, something the competition often skips in “stripper” models. In keeping with Mazda’s self-proclaimed sporty image, the front seats feature aggressive (for a Camcord segment car) front seat bolsters and are therefore quite different from the Barcaloungers in the Camry, Accord and Altima. The bolsters aren’t as pronounced as a C63 AMG, but the “like a glove” fit was a huge selling point for me. On the down side, seats like these are less comfortable for larger folks as they provide precious little muffin top accommodation.

Rear seat legroom is up thanks to the increased wheelbase and is now competitive with the CamFusCord. Because the way that car companies measure leg room varies it’s hard to go by the published numbers. According to the numbers the Mazda6 delivers the same rear legroom as the meat of the competition but skimps on front legroom. In reality the Mazda6 felt roomier than its old cousin the Ford Fusion while the Camry still feels larger somehow. Some of that is thanks to the Camry’s generous rear headroom, something that sexy sedan profiles take a toll on. Thankfully Mazda didn’t cut the rear doors as low as Ford did making it easier to get in and out of the Mazda. With more room on the inside and a shorter overall car, it’s no surprise that the looser in this battle is the trunk. At 14.8 cubic feet the 2014 model looses two cubes compared to last year shifting it from one of the larger trunks in the segment to among the smallest.

2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior, Infotainment Control Knob, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment & Gadgets

Mazda’s limited budget is readily apparent when you look at the Infotainment system. I’m not talking about the base 6-speaker AM/FM/CD system that you will only find in the most basic trim Mazda6 with the manual transmission, that one is lovely, I’m talking about the 5.8-inch touchscreen. Simply adding the automatic transmission bundles the touchscreen infotainment system on the base model and it’s standard on all other models meaning you can’t get away from it. If you’ve read my reviews before, you know that I love me some touchscreen infotainment, but Mazda’s leaves me scratching my head.

First off, the screen is small. With the Accord boasting two ginormous LCDs in the dash, 5.8-inches is nothing to brag about. The size of the screen’s binnacle makes me hopeful a mid-cycle refresh will being some 8-inch touch-love, but that could be a pipe dream. The software’s graphics are suitably slick and the interface is easy to navigate via the touchscreen or the Audi MMI style knob in the center console. Alas the lord giveth and he taketh away. The software is sluggish at best, some of the control screens are half-baked and the integration of TomTom navigation is clunky. I’m not a huge fan of Chrysler’s uConnect with Garmin software, but at least that system has the screen real estate allowing you to read the awkward menus and stab what you need, not so in the Mazda. When using the control dial it’s difficult to distinguish between the option that’s selected and the cursor position since they are the same color and nearly the same shape.

2014 Mazda Mazda6 Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Plug in any music device and you’ll encounter my other beef, and something Mazda forum posters have been complaining about as well. The media interface is incredibly slow. I n c r e d i b l y  s l o w. So slow that at first I assumed the head unit had frozen so I plugged, unplugged, plugged, unplugged to no avail. Then I gave up and listened to the radio. (Gasp!) A full 4 minutes later, the system switched to the iDevice and started to play my tunes. (Yes, I tested it with USB sticks and it did the same thing). If you think this is a momentary aberration, think again. The system has to fully index your entire USB/Android/iDevice music library before it starts playing. It does this whenever you unplug/plug or when you stop/start the car. Every. Single. Time. The larger your library, the longer it takes. Users on the Mazda forum reported a 10+ minute delay when playing larger devices while I averaged just over three minutes. Want tunes on a short journey? I hope you enjoy AM Gold. Mazda hasn’t confirmed a software update, but I pray one happens soon. This was so aggravating it colors my whole opinion of the interface, if Mazda fixed this one thing I could forgive the small screen and quirky menu system.

On the gadget front, Mazda lags behind Ford but does offers most of the gadgetry you’ll find in the competition and a few things you won’t. Our tester had the optional adaptive radar cruise with collision warning, xenon headlamps, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic detection, rain sensing wipers and keyless entry/go. Also available as part of the $2090 Technology Package on iGrand Touring models is lane departure warning and an auto high beam system bundled with Mazda’s i-ELoop micro hybrid system. Notably absent on the Mazda6 are lane departure prevention and self-parking, features starting to trickle down into this segment.

2014 Mazda Mazda6 Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


SkyActiv is Mazda’s fuel saving “brand,” but it’s more than just a set of engine tweaks. Mazda’s fuel sipping umbrella includes weight savings, aerodynamics, optional energy regeneration and a slick new transmission. Lets start with weight savings. At 3,232lbs (automatic transmission) the 2014 is  about three hundred pounds lighter than the old model, 200lbs lighter than a Fusion, and a hair heavier than a Camry or Optima. Under the hood you’ll find the latest 2.5L Mazda four-cylinder engine with direct injection and variable valve timing. Mazda uses a 13:1 compression ratio in the American bound models to allow it to run safely on regular unleaded, so this isn’t exactly the same engine in other markets. Power output is 185 HP and 184 lb-ft which stacks up well against the competition especially when you look at the torque curve which is lower and broader than most of the competition. While Ford offers no less than four engine options in the Fusion, the 2.5L is the only engine available until the SkyActiv diesel appears.

Something that has confused reporters in the past is Mazda’s new transmission. Some describe it as a hybrid between a dual clutch and a traditional automatic, some have even suggested that it can “disable” the torque converter. In addition to the 6-speed manual transmission you can opt for the SkyActiv branded traditional automatic transaxle. Traditional? What about the fancy clutches? Here’s what Mazda did.

Lock-up torque converters are nothing new, having been introduced in 1949, but in our age of efficiency companies are using them more aggressively. By locking the impeller and turbine (input and output) of the torque converter, you increase efficiency by cutting most of the impelling losses in the torque converter (there are still some because it’s still spinning, but it’s greatly reduced). Old transmissions only did this in their final gear and relatively infrequently. Modern automatics like GM/Ford’s 6-speed transaxle spend about half their time in lock-up and will engage the locking “clutch” in most gears. Mazda’s new slushbox is programmed with an aggressive lockup agenda and will lock in every gear. In addition, it spends more time in lockup (80% or more) than a competitive unit on the same driving cycle. The result is a more connected 1:1 relationship between the engine and wheels than you find in a CamFusCord.

2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior-002


The aggressive lockup is noticeable out on the road, especially in hill driving where the Mazda6 feels more connected to the drivetrain than the competition. “Connected” is a word that repeatedly came to mind when driving the Mazda6 in the real world and during an event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca where Mazda had the guys to let a writer’s group flog a sedan on the track. The Zoom-Zoom brand has long been known for an emphasis on handling, so it shouldn’t surprise you that the Mazda6 is one of the most enjoyable front wheel drive cars on the road, but it also proved amusing on the track. No, not as amusing as the BMW X1 that was on hand, but the Mazda delivered surprising agility, well controlled body motions, little roll and just a hint of brake fade after 6 laps. For a CamFusCord competitor, there is no higher praise. Ultimate grip is easily the equal of the new Ford Fusion, the only other entry in this large segment with any handling prowess at all. Another feather in the Mazda6′s cap is steering with the vaguest hint of feeling, a quality that would have been laughable a decade ago, but in our age of electric power steering even the suggestion of feedback is welcome.

I was a bit less impressed with the Mazda6′s manual transmission, yes it has possibly the best shift feel in the segment, but is that saying much? The clutch pedal feel is superior to the new Accord as well, but with only 184HP on tap and 3,200lbs to motivate the automatic does a better job on the average commute. Boo! Hiss! Another manual hater?!? Not at all, I love the fact that Mazda builds most trim levsls of the Mazda6 with a manual. The problem is the slushbox is moderately engaging and gets 1MPG better mileage (26/38 for the auto). It’s easy to see why the average shopper would let the car row the gears. At the stop-light races, the 2014 model feels stronger than the outgoing model despite the modest bump in power, this is thanks to the improved torque curve, weight reduction and that SkyActiv transmission. Proving that CVTs are the performance king (seriously) the four-cylinder Accord spanks the ZoomZoom to 60 MPH with a 6.83 second score to the Mazda6′s 7.4 but both of those are faster than the Fusion’s base or 1.6L Ecoboost options by over half a tick.

2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The i-ELoop micro hybrid system is part of a $2,090 option pack on the top trim of the Mazda6. This is similar to BMW’s active alternator, in that the system is only capable of recovering a portion of the kinetic energy and provides no motive assistance. When braking, a variable voltage alternator charges a large capacitor, the system uses this to power vehicle systems. When accelerating, the system disengages the alternator to reduce the load and runs the accessories on the reserved charge. Mazda claims the system is good for an extra 2MPG on the highway bumping the mid-sized sedan to an impressive 40MPG. I was unable to get my hands on one for testing, but I easily beat the 30 MPG combined score despite driving it more aggressively during the week than the competition.

So if the Mazda6 handles well, delivers decent fuel economy and is priced and featured in line with the competition, why are the sales so slow? After a week with the 2014 incarnation I’m no closer to answering this automotive enigma. Many have conjectured the ZoomZoom brand lacks the advertising resources to push their wares, that is certainly true when you compare their marketing budget to Toyota, but then again Kia and Hyundai have raised themselves from obscurity on budgets that started small. Some posit the lack of a stout V6 option is to blame, but 90% of the cars in this segment are four-bangers, so toss that logic out the window. Even with the most aggravating infotainment system sold in America, the Mazda6′s other attributes compensate enough to put it near the top of my list, just under the gadget loaded, 2.0L Ecoboosted Fusion and the four-cylinder Accord. Why doesn’t the Mazda6 sell? Will the diesel engine turn the Mazda6 into an oil-burning Passat killer? These are questions we may never have answered. What do our readers have to say?

Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • One of the best looking cars in the segment.
  • Excellent fuel economy.
  • Turbo diesel dreams.

Quit it

  • Aggravating infotainment system.
  • No turbocharged four and no V6 option for “performance” shoppers.

Mazda provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.75 Seconds

0-60: 7.4 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.786 Seconds @ 88.5 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 30.5 MPG over 534 miles

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Vellum Venom Vignette: Kia’s Magical Tiger Nose Tue, 19 Mar 2013 10:00:24 +0000

Dan writes:

Hey Sajeev,

Since you’re a (failed-SM) auto designer, I was curious about your opinion on something I’ve noticed. I (like a lot of people, apparently) like Kia’s current styling and design language, especially on the Optima. It’s got a presence that reminds me of older Pontiacs, a kind of aggression that is lacking in a lot of cars today. What’s your opinion on Kia’s grille treatment?

Specifically, compare the Optima (and the upcoming redesigned Forte) to the Sportage or their other SUVs. The Optima’s grille feels like it’s carved into the front end, those central opposing “notches” being the glue that holds the whole conceit of the “tiger nose” or whatever the marketing guys call it. Without that subtle pinch defined by the body paint, it would lose a lot of its distinction and just blend in. I believe it’s a major component to what makes the Optima look good.

Since the Optima was introduced, Kia’s started moving that design language across their other cars. When they put the new grille into their existing lineup, it was sort of just… “pasted on” to the existing cars. Look at the pre-2013 Forte or Rio, older Sportage, and Sorento and you’d see that the existing hole for the old grille was filled in and the tiger-nose just pasted on top with no double-notches to let the body paint in. It always came across as very cheap and lazy to me, and without the pinches to let the body paint sneak in to break up the two “sides” of the grille, the front end loses a lot of its distinction and the car much less aggressive as a result.

At first I thought this was just temporary, that Kia would redesign their front ends to eliminate this, and they did with the Forte and Rio. But they seem to be making a clear distinction between the SUVs and the cars. The cars are getting the Optima-style nose, while the SUVs aren’t. The refreshed Sportage and Sorento still have that “filled in and pasted on” grille look. It looks better than before, given that the grille is more prominent, but it’s still not the same as the cars.

What do you think? Does the car version look better? Or am I just being picky?

Sajeev answers:

Oh yes!  The latest Kia designs are stunning…not Ferrari stunning, but close enough considering the price point. Apparently a dude named Peter Schreyer is behind this product renaissance, no doubt his team’s accomplishments are pretty fantastic. And the “Tiger Nose” grille is a big part of that.


But your question is a slippery, slippery slope: items that become part of a brand identity must elegantly translate across the full range of products AND be honest to the design’s original intent. Put simply, you gotta learn how to Rock ‘n Roll around the world, without forgetting what makes good music: be Elvis, not David Hasselhoff. Not that there’s anything especially wrong with The Hoff…but I digress.

I am totally-mostly fine with the Tiger blood Nose grilles on all Kia products, even the afterthought redesign on the 2010 Optima: it fit, it flowed nicely and added a touch of originality in a sea of undefined, boring Billy Big Mouth Bass grilles from Korea, Japan and even the USA.

And the CUVs are fine for what they are.  If you try to get frou-frou fancy (technical term, don’t try this at home) with grilles on CUVs, you run the risk of being the next Subaru B9 Tribeca. That Subie CUV put this website on the map, proving that styling is a huuuuuge part of the car biz.

SUVs came from trucks, which were a worldwide success since the dawn of the automobile.  CUVs came from SUVs. All of this must be respected on Vellum.

People want truck-like authority from their CUVs. And there’s a lot of frontal area on a CUV, so you better go bold…or go home. And quite honestly, KIA’s tiger nose grilles are neither brash nor obnoxious.  Kia nailed the execution on this canvas. I think you are a bit too picky, like you said.

To reiterate: a brand’s face needs to elegantly transition across the entire fleet. The Tiger Nose performs some kind of magic, working well on every application. What say you, Best and Brightest?

Final Note: there’s gotta be a Panther Love joke in here, but I still can’t find it.

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Question Of The Day: What If You Created Your Very Own… Car Commercial? Fri, 01 Feb 2013 17:34:57 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Back in my college days, it seemed like every single Chrysler commercial featured a car that would morph from the old model into the new model.

Minivan morph. Neon morph. Intrepid morph. The technological transitions were quite well done, and I always enjoyed a commercial that reminded me of the movie “Terminator 2.”

But then I had a few ideas of my own…

While trapped in a long boring 300+ person lecture class, I began crafting my own Chrysler commercial using a variety of doodles and ramblings.

“Why not use the opening theme to the Asia song, “Only Time Will Tell? I always liked that song!” said the 20 year old me.

Start with a nice five second aerial zoom-in on Chrysler’s new Auburn Hills R&D facility. Then when they get the cowbell going on at second six, start taking close-ups of angles on the new vehicles with alternating shots in color and black and white.

Right around second eight, you get five or six new vehicles doing a turn-in on a race track with the waterspin effect that was all the rage for that time.

Finally, you would have a single car drive towards the camera and morph into all the new Chrysler models that were coming out. The difficulty of morphing a Viper GTS into a minivan didn’t quite register with me at that point.

After all, I was fantasizing away my time in the lecture hall. Nothing more than playing the bored version of a Monday morning quarterback.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Enthusiasts are a love it or hate it group. Zen inspired waterfalls are not our thing. Humor can be a bit touchy for those with passion, and few things receive more contention than a car commercial that doesn’t tell us about the car.

Or maybe not? Advertising is often times about the power of nuance. A seduction by a multitude of clever manipulations within a thirty second time period. Come to think of it, an auto auctioneer in my B2B wholesale auction world,  and the advertising executive of the modern day,  have far more in common than I would ever comfortably admit to.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The power to create the urgency to buy is a rare gift. So tell me about yours! Is there a commercial you had crafted up in your mind in between watching talking hamsters and truck happy dogs? If not, any favorites?

Friday is still a long day at this point. So feel free to expound on all things commercial.


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Monday Mileage Champion: The Year In Review Mon, 31 Dec 2012 17:43:10 +0000

It’s time to make a confession to the good folks at TTAC.

The mileage game is rigged.

How so? Well, approximately two-thirds of the vehicles that reach the 300k+ mark  at an auction I attend will usually belong in one of four categories.

Ford truck or SUV.  Chevy truck or SUV. Honda car. Toyota everything.

There you have it. Nearly two thirds of the vehicles that I see with serious high mileage credentials will belong in one of those four categories.

Yes I do see the occasional V8, rear-wheel-drive Ford car. Nissan seems to do well with their mostly -90′s Altimas, 10+ year old Maximas,  and their wonderful small trucks. A few Jeeps and Cummins diesel trucks also fly into the high mileage radar.

But everyone else? Just little glimpses every now and then.

The old school German machinery will sometimes score a 300k+ model with a level of maintenance receipts that could do damage to your next door neighbor’s window.

VW does well with the TDI, the too slow 2.0, and nothing else. Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover, SAAB, and Volvo have become a big fuhgeddaboudit for our weekly mileage contest. Volvo would probably field a few 300k vehicles if the odometers on all their 1990′s models didn’t break with a near 100% level of consistency.

In my experiences, Subarus can get close to 300k, But they will often  have massive oil leaks and repair records that will rival the Germans.

Mitsubishi makes some decent cars as does Mazda. But the former are almost always eventually skirted away to the abuse oriented rental fleets and buy-here pay-here lots. While Mazda suffers from a nasty long era where many of their automatic transmissions simply did not hold up.

Then we have Chrysler. The 2.7 Liter engines rarely makes it past 120k miles and are virtually non-existent at the auto recycling centers. Even though they made millions of them, you may as well be asking the guy at the junkyard counter for a 20 year old Peugeot with a dancing unicorn on top of it.

The 3.7 Liter and 4.7 Liter engines are also becoming increasingly expensive due to sludge issues and the fact that they’re difficult to rebuild. Chrysler transmissions for their minivans are also becoming a rarer sight. Although they are far easier to rebuild.

Finally, it seems that Chrysler could never design certain basic parts that were worth a flip throughout the last two decades.

For a while at the auctions, I began to think that Chrysler engineered a whining noise into all the power steering pumps in their minivans and differentials in their luxury Jeeps. Chrysler wouldn’t even arbitrate certain Jeeps for differential noise back in the mid-2000′s.

However, a Dodge truck with a Cummins diesel remains a recipe for success, and the Hemi engine seems to be long lasting along with the old 5.2 Liter 318 engine and the 4.0 Liter inline-six.

Finally we are back at GM and Ford, again. I will give special kudos to the GM 3.8 Liter V6 and the Ford Vulcan V6. The former was a marvel for the time. While the later represents the ultimate in amortization costs and continuous improvement. Everything else ranges from above average (GM 2.2 Liter engines and early non-plastic intake 3.1 Liter engines), to problematic (Ford 3.8 Liter engines, GM 3.4 Liter V6 models, Northstar V8′s.)

Sometimes these issues had to do with the overuse of cheap plastic in the engine bay and coolants that gel up. While other times it has more to do with basic bad design (Saturn and Freestar CVT transmissions) and planned obsolescence (Aveos, Neons, PT Cruisers, last-gen Festivas, last-gen Metros).

I expect that the Koreans will likely join the fray of 300k+ in the coming years. But a lot of just plain bad Hyundais and Kias were made until recent times. I can’t recall a single model from either brand with a notably high mileage at the auctions.

As for the Honda Accord with 403,817 miles? It was followed by a Toyota Tacoma, an Acura TL, and a Ford Explorer. All with over 390,000 miles. The durability quartet took 8 of the top 10 spots and 22 of the first 30.

Not bad… and not unusual at all.


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Question Of The Day: What Would Be The Best Car For A College Student? Thu, 25 Oct 2012 16:02:02 +0000

Every time you see them, a big smile shines across your face.

Full scholarship. Nice as can be. A good heart. Your wunderkind of a young adult has given you so much over the years and is now on the way to making this world a better place.

You want to help them by getting them some wheels for their new home away from home.

Will you pay for all of it? Pay for a portion of it? It’s a tough call. Decisions like these are never easy. Safe. Fun. Durable. Where can you find all three without spending too much?

You don’t want to spoil them. That’s for sure. But as an auto enthusiast who knows that a great car can be a reward all in itself, you do want them to experience a feeling of joy and satisfaction for their first solitary set of wheels.

Oh, one more thing. They have driven for several years without so much as an accident or a ticket. The big man upstairs says, “You’re welcome!”

So what would you buy? Better yet, should you buy?

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Nissan Pathfinder: Body On Frame Is Like, So Last Month Sat, 04 Aug 2012 15:10:01 +0000

Nissan unveiled is 2013 Pathfinder in suburban Detroit and in downtown Manhattan’s Meatpacking District (just two blocks away from the PATH train, get it?) The fashionably rugged, but far from off-roadish locales were carefully chosen:

The new Pathfinder ditches its body-on-frame passé past, and goes with a nimbler unibody design. Truck purists (who don’t buy Nissan anyway) may bemoan it, but Nissan’s GM Al Castignetti says the truck purists have slept through a big shift in the market. Says Nissan’s press release:

“Truck-based SUV sales peaked in the mid-2000s and have declined steadily as consumer demands shifted to more refined, fuel efficient crossover SUVs.  The 2013 Pathfinder is built with unibody construction, vastly reducing its weight by eliminating the fuel-penalizing mass of a traditional SUV’s truck-based frame.”

The base model will be bargain priced at just over $28,000 when it goes on sale in the United States in fall. Made in Smyrna, Tenn., with an engine made Decherd, Tenn., the Pathfinder will add to the politically correct side of the balance of payments by being exported to more than 80 destinations outside of the U.S., with main markets being Canada, Mexico and the Middle East.


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QOTD: Farewell To The Body-On-Frame SUV? Mon, 30 Jul 2012 14:03:25 +0000

Pictures of the “production” version of the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder, which looks about the same as the “concept” version unveiled at Detroit in January. And along with the reveal, another body-on-frame SUV bites the dust.

Having driven the Infiniti JX (essentially, a really nice 2013 Pathfinder), I’m not at all concerned; the Pathfinder has become yet another toddler taxi. The most extreme situations it will ever see is a gravel driveway. This is a “truck” that needs to compete against the Honda Pilot and the Toyota Highlander – not to mention the Ford Explorer, which seems to be doing just fine with a unibody layout.

The body-on-frame SUV is a species in decline. Part of it is obviously cost considerations. There are perfectly good car platforms out there that can be used to create perfectly good, car-like crossovers. But how much of it is because these car-based SUVs are competent enough that having a body-on-frame design doesn’t matter? We can throw out arguments about towing, or off-road prowess, but very few of these vehicles will ever be used for those duties, and even then, they are often strong enough to fulfill the 99 percent of owner expectations.

So, my dear readers, here’s my question; how much of the lamenting of the body-on-frame SUV and its apparent superiority is merely cooked up in the hearts and minds of truck fans, longing for a bygone era? Or am I missing the mark?

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail 2013-nissan-pathfinder-in-production-trim_100397392_m 2013-nissan-pathfinder-in-production-trim_100397391_m ]]> 61
TTAC Book Club – Car: A Drama of the American Workplace Fri, 27 Jul 2012 15:26:49 +0000

Last week, I polled TTAC readers on essential reading related to the car industry. Since most of the books are old, and don’t merit a formal review, I figured that opening the floor to discussion would better serve the readers, and myself, with regards to thinking about the book and the lessons contained within.

The first book up for discussion is “Car: A Drama of the American Workplace”. Mary Walton’s look at the development of the DN101 Taurus was so revealing that it set a precedent for Ford – never again would a journalist be granted such in-depth access. Car is a look at the triumphs and heartbreaks that go into the half-decade it takes to develop a car. How the various facets of the company interact, the clash of ideas that exist between engineering and design, the way that everything most conform to internal budgetary requirements, government mandates and qualitative targets set by the engineers. It’s astonishing that vehicles even get developed, given all the hoops that must be jumped through by all parties involved.

Personally, it left an indellible impression on my notion of a car review; it’s easy to criticize a choice of seat fabric or a funky instrument panel on a test drive. Knowing that millions of dollars, hundreds of hours and endless arguments were waged over that component, by people with much more experience and education than I, makes me feel unworthy at best, incompetent at worst. Automotive journalism is briefly touched on towards the end of the book, as Walton delves into the absurdity of the press trip circuit and how writers are coddled.

Some takeaways

1) A successful new car can be just as much a product of timing and luck as it is effort and engineering. The DN101 was critically praised and designed expressly to beat the Camry, yet it was a sales flop. Given the long lead times for new cars and rapid shifts in market tastes, is there a way for car companies to hedge against this (see: Honda, which offered a decontented Civic, when high-content compact cars suddenly became the new thing in the industry).

2) The level of care and attention paid to the most minute components is humbling. The knobs and buttons on the Taurus’ instrument panel went through focus groups, committees and redesigns all before making it to production. We would laugh at their poor quality now.

3) All the focus groups and research clinics were enthusiastic about the styling of the Taurus; in the end, it proved to be the most controversial aspect with buyers.

Please feel free to bring up other points/criticisms in the discussion. The floor is turned over to you, the readers. I am reading these books as a means of building context. All contributions are welcome.

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Interest For EVs Fading Sat, 31 Mar 2012 15:34:39 +0000 It’s “another broadside for the EV industry,” says Automotive News [sub]. The alleged artillery barrage was sent by the Center for Automotive Research. It cancelled its 2012 Business of Plugging In conference. The reason? Lack of interest.

Says Brett Smith, CAR’s co-director of conferences:

“Some could look at this as the industry is dead and no one cares about this anymore.”

Not completely true, says  Smith. The newness of plug-in vehicles is wearing off, and with the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and the Nissan Leaf EV on the market, “we don’t need the message of how they will fit in. They’ve got to live or die on their own.”

According to AN, “car companies are seeking to distance themselves” from electric vehicles. CAR also has lost interest. The Business of Plugging In conference won’t return for 2013 either, Smith told AN, claiming “that CAR knew from the beginning it would have a finite life span.”

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Center For Automotive Research: Plant Closures Not So Bad After All Fri, 09 Dec 2011 15:18:36 +0000

After intensive study, the automaker and union-funded think tank, the Center For Automotive Research (CAR),  came to the conclusion that closing down automotive manufacturing sites is not as catastrophic as originally thought. Nearly half of the 267 U.S. automotive manufacturing plants that had been shuttered since 1979 have come back to life.

With generous support from the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, CAR catalogued 447 sites in 28 states that had operational since 1979. Of those, 60 percent were closed.

Automotive News [sub] read beyond the press release and unearthed that 65 percent of the closed sites belonged to General Motors, 16 percent to Ford, 16 percent to Chrysler and 3 percent to other automakers. Said Jay Williams, Director of the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers:

“While each community with a closed automotive facility faces unique challenges, this report helps shine a light on how community engagement, a focus on flexibility, and the involvement of the private sector, non-profit groups, and all levels of government can help them recover. The findings will assist our office as we continue to help leaders navigate the local, state, and federal resources available to revitalize former auto communities.”

Most of the new sites received a new job for industrial purposes, others were converted into warehouses, commercial facilities, educational institutions or even for recreational purposes.


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Center For Automotive Research: Detroit Beating The Wage Gap Tue, 11 May 2010 18:40:40 +0000

Speaking at the same Detroit conference on the auto bailout that Steve Rattner and Ron Bloom attended, the Center for Automotive Research’s Sean McAlinden proclaimed the end of Detroit’s era of unsustainable high wages. In 2007, said McAlinden, building a car in North America cost GM about $1,400 more per car than it did Toyota, thanks largely to a $950 health care charge. Since then, GM’s bailout and renegotiated wage and benefit contracts with the union have actually brought GM’s hourly compensation to just under what the CAR says the transplants pay. The AP reports that McAlinden’s estimate of GM’s average hourly worker salary is $69,368 while the transplant average is $70,185. Better still is McAlinden’s prediction that

between 2013 and 2015, Toyota could even be paying $10 more per hour than GM unless the Japanese company reacts and lowers wages.

And all it took was giving the UAW a $17.5 stake in the new GM!

Of course, there’s some question as to the veracity of anything that comes out of the CAR. Largely funded by unions and the Detroit automakers, CAR’s assesments have been plenty controversial in the past. This time though, it’s hard to see how cooking these numbers helps anybody. After all, the UAW hardly comes out of this looking like roses with its membership… unless we see these numbers used in a union counterattack.

And that’s not a scenario that’s entirely out of the question. After all, GM may be beating the transplants on hourly worker wages, but compare white-collar salaried employee compensation, and it’s clear that GM still pays its non-hourly workers quite well by comparison. According to McAlinden,

Salaried workers at the Detroit automakers made $122,963; at foreign competitors, they made $81,506.

That won’t make the union too happy. But then, they won’t really have much to say until their VEBA fund is able to monetize its stakes in GM and Chrysler. And if those stakes don’t yield enough cash to meet VEBA’s obligations, expect things to get nasty all over again. And then there’s the issue of pensions, which the GAO recently warned could compromise the whole auto bailout. It’s not clear if McAlinden includes these looming pension bills in his compensation analysis, but it’s likely he doesn’t considering GM has no public plan for how to deal with the looming crisis.

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Hammer Time: Cheap, Cheap and Cheap Sun, 03 Jan 2010 17:25:58 +0000 This Taurus a new one?

Why that car? My cousin was slightly amused at the sight of my 2004 Ford Taurus SES. A rental car seemingly loaded with penny-pinching mediocrity and cut corners. An unusual choice for the holidays. It had made the long journey from Northwest Georgia to Jewish Florida in a day’s time. The leather was cheap, but functional. The buttons were cheap, but functional. The price bought it for was very cheap…

and very functional. $1400. So what was the catch? As the Rev. Jesse Jackson would say if he hucked cars instead of skin color, “There’s always an explanation for depreciation.” Cheap always happens in any business for a reason. In fact, for many years I’ve been sampling three types of ‘cheap cars’ that pay off surprisingly well. They are…

1) The very high mileage, late model vehicle.

2) The very low mileage, older vehicle.

3) The unknown mileage (True Miles Unknown) / or ‘Branded Title’ vehicle.

This one was a prime example of number one. Although it was as clean and well kept as any ‘dealer queen’ at the auction, it also had mileage that would qualify it for ‘gold’ status in most frequent flyer programs. 190k highway miles in North Georgia to be exact. However this car was also in exceptionally good shape. Even for a 5 year old car. Ford OEM parts had been installed aplenty in the engine department since day one. The exterior and interior surprisingly free of any signs of substantial wear. It had also been a ‘fleet’ vehicle for a company which had taken it for dealer service every 3,000 miles.

Everything worked from the sunroof to the trunk release. Leather was perfect… which is a very good thing. Because for the most part folks either ‘buy with their eyes’ or get the ‘loaded model’. A modern day sled is still more marketable when it’s full of bells, whistles, and reindeer. This one has 200 horsepower which is a nice marketing combo when you throw in the leather and a roof. A brick load of receipts had kept this road warrior a front line ready unit and the 1500 miles of recent family taxi duty didn’t hurt it either. In fact, it may have helped it given that I can now vouch for it’s road trip prowess.

Resale has always been the shangri-la of the cheapskate and the ugly ogre for those who end up trading their sleds. This Taurus definitely qualifies as a medieval terror in that regard. Like most overproduced and over-rental-ed domestics, the market value is now less than half of a Toyonda equivalent. The next buyer may also benefit from the curse of powertrains past. AXOD transmissions and head gasket sucking 3.8 Liters (not to mention Ford’s rental happy orientation at the time) had doomed the Taurus for well over a decade into the far lower tier of resale value. This one thankfully came with the 200 horsepower Duratec with the AX4N transmission which has overwhelmingly become the powertrain of choice for buy-here pay-here lots. It’s a surprisingly good unit that makes Tauruses quite popular for those companies that specialize in financing the unfinancable. It’s cheap to buy. Cheap to sell… and if you recondition it properly, it’s usually cheap to keep.

This Taurus is also far from alone in the ‘cursed’ regard. Dodge Intrepids often came with a 2.7L V6 that self-destructed well before 100k. I actually had one that was only owned by the Salvation Army, and six months after it sold, the engine went kaput. However the 3.5L unit that went to the high-line models, police cars, and the 300M is an entirely different beast. I bought a 2004 model a few years ago for only $3000 that came with everything… and 133k miles. Over the years, I have bought and financed a lot of these high mileage road warriors from the auction’s discount bin and I have yet to regret it. Explorers with ‘Exploder Tires’, Dexron-ridden GM cars. Even the one blown head of a 1990′s Neon may be bought for a song and sold for a dance. But like any veteran buyer at the auctions, I also do a lot of research and inspection before pulling that trigger. A diligent inspection and a good history of care usually go a very long way; especially when you’re playing with your own money.

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Bailout Watch 567: Feds Mandate Chrysler Green Car Mon, 02 Nov 2009 19:34:20 +0000 Green with ENVI...

From the just-released GAO report (PDF) on the auto bailout:

Chrysler’s shareholders, including Treasury, have agreed that  Fiat’s equity stake in Chrysler will increase if Chrysler meets certain benchmarks, such as producing a vehicle that achieves a fuel economy of 40 miles per gallon or producing a new engine in the United States. Treasury officials stated that they established such up-front conditions not solely to protect Treasury’s financial interests as a creditor and equity owner but also to reflect the Administration’s views on responsibly utilizing taxpayer resources for these companies. While Treasury has stated it does not plan to manage its stake in Chrysler or GM to achieve social policy goals, these requirements and covenants to which the companies are subject indicate the challenges Treasury has faced and likely will face in balancing its roles.

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Bailout Watch 372: The Man Who Would Be Czar Wed, 04 Feb 2009 18:39:59 +0000

Point three of Barack Obama's ethics pledge to the American people is that "no political appointees in an Obama-Biden administration will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years. And no political appointee will be able to lobby the executive branch after leaving government service during the remainder of the administration." Obviously that's a high standard, and one that seems increasingly important as the lines between government and industry are blurred by rampant bailouts. And clearly not everyone makes the cut. But as Obama assembles a team to "restructure" the auto industry, the spirit (if not the letter) of his ban on revolving door hiring seems to be falling by the wayside.


Point three of Barack Obama’s ethics pledge to the American people is that “no political appointees in an Obama-Biden administration will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years. And no political appointee will be able to lobby the executive branch after leaving government service during the remainder of the administration.” Obviously that’s a high standard, and one that seems increasingly important as the lines between government and industry are blurred by rampant bailouts. And clearly not everyone makes the cut. But as Obama assembles a team to “restructure” the auto industry, the spirit (if not the letter) of his ban on revolving door hiring seems to be falling by the wayside.

According to the Detroit News, the leading candidate for Obama’s “Car Czar” position is a certain Mr Steven Girsky, who the DetN describes as a “longtime auto industry analyst.” Having advised Centerbridge Industrial Partners and JP Morgan on auto issues, Girsky is more than simply an analyst. Automotive News [sub] reported in October of 2008 that Girsky was hired by the United Auto Workers to advise on the proposed Chrysler-GM merger and as AN dryly put it “he may also advise the UAW on a possible federal bailout of the U.S. automakers.” Girsky was also a consultant to GM’s CEO and CFO for just under a year, leaving the firm in 2006. As of October 2008, he also served on the board of Dana Corp, a massive auto supplier firm.

Does Girsky’s experience make him incapable of living up to Obama’s high moral standards? Technically, no. Like Tom Daschle before him, Girsky is clearly a lobbyist, though he’s not registered as one (the de facto bright line rule for Obama). But having been paid by the UAW within months to advise them on bailout strategy, he’s also clearly not going to live up to the “no work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years” standard. And if he is appointed as Car Czar, it’s safe to say that he will be guiding regulations and money disbursements that are “substantially related” to the work he has been doing for the UAW.

But as with so many political decisions, the choice of a Car Czar will likely be decided on the lesser of two evils. After all, Girsky may be steeped in the cozy relationships between GM management, the UAW and the government, but at least he has industry experience. Steven Rattner of Quadrangle Group has also been named as a possible czar, but as Newsweek reports, his main qualifications appears to be as a Democratic fundraiser (he is married to the National Finance Chairwoman of the DNC) and media-elite insider. Sure he covered energy and economy beats at the NY Times back in the day, but there’s little to indicate that he would make an especially good Car Czar.

Meanwhile, for all of Girsky’s industry connections, some of his ideas are decidedly TTAC-ish. Like when he got AN Executive Editor Edward Lapham‘s collar up by suggesting [sub] that the Detroit Three might need to cut as many as 70 percent of its dealerships. He even seems to cause some consternation among his UAW employers, based on this post at Salon. And that might just indicate the kind of experience and perspective that Obama’s team clearly needs. After all, his Climate and Energy Czar Carol Browner told Automotive News [sub] at the DC Auto Show that there are “lots of clean cars out there and options for the consumer.” You know, because the OEMs say so.

Meanwhile, it seems that nothing will stop or slow the rolling tide of money that is about to slosh into the automotive industry. $2b worth of battery research money is said to be going into the forthcoming stimulus package, and the Senate just approved an amendment to the stimulus bill which would make auto loan interest and state sales taxes deductable from federal taxes. Whether Girsky or Rattner is appointed as Car Czar won’t likely make much of a difference in terms of the amount of money that will be funneled into the industry over the following years. The crucial distinction is whether experience is worth the possibility of a conflict of interest.

Obama’s strict ethical standards are admirable, but if his options for Car Czar are between an industry insider who defines the term “revolving door” and a candidate who is being considered solely due to his political connections, something has clearly gone wrong. I’m not sure this kind of compromise is what people had in mind when they voted for “change we can believe in.” But in this familiarly frustrating choice, at least Girsky has a record of taking stands on crucial issues facing the industry. If he can publicly explain his recent UAW dealings in a way that passes Obama’s muster, Girsky may actually be the least of the available evils.

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