The Truth About Cars » Question of the Day http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 24 Jan 2015 14:22:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 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 editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (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 » Question of the Day http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com QOTD: When Did BMW Lose Its Edge? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/qotd-bmw-lose-edge/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/qotd-bmw-lose-edge/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 17:11:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=988002 Twenty years ago, BMW was the coolest automaker in the world. I know this because I – as a young lad of less than ten, growing up in the 1990s – desperately wanted my father to purchase a BMW. And he – as a rational, middle-aged man in his 40s – ended up in a […]

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Twenty years ago, BMW was the coolest automaker in the world. I know this because I – as a young lad of less than ten, growing up in the 1990s – desperately wanted my father to purchase a BMW. And he – as a rational, middle-aged man in his 40s – ended up in a Camry with cloth seats and a tape player. He wasn’t the BMW type. He wasn’t cool enough. Back then, few were.

Remember the BMW of yore? The sharknose 6 Series. That late-1990s 7 Series (E38) that looked like the kind of thing the devil would drive, if he was late to a board meeting in Hell. The beautiful mid-1990s 5 Series (E34), and the perfect late-1990s 5 Series (E39) that followed it. The Z8. The Z3, which – although it hasn’t aged well – came out to universal acclaim in the mid-90s, and made its way into a Bond movie soon after. And then there was the 3 Series: the E30. The E36. The E46. The brand’s bread-and-butter, perfectly executed, perfectly sized, perfect to drive.

Little did we know, it was the brand’s all-time peak.

Twenty years later, here we are: the BMW of now. Gran Coupes. Gran Turismos. xDrive35i. Sports activity vehicles. iDrive. And a front-wheel drive electric car with a trim level called Giga World. I swear that if a meeting ever took place between the two BMW eras, 1990s BMW would punch 2010s BMW in the face and give it a wedgie while it was lying on the ground.

Things have gotten so bad that there’s kind of a running understanding among modern car enthusiasts that BMW has turned to crap. It’s like when you’re on a boat, and you’re rapidly taking on water. Nobody says you’re taking on water, but it’s plain to see: there you are, in the middle of the ocean, with minnows swimming around your ankles.

Essentially, the problems are as follows: the cars are bloated. The segments make no sense. The names are bizarre. And what the hell is the 2 Series Active Sports Tourer? Is that a joke? Are we supposed to pretend that thing simply doesn’t exist?

So my question today is: what the hell happened? Where did BMW go wrong? When did the once almighty BMW, the ambassador of cool, the diplomat of debonair (eh? EH?!), finally go off into the deep end and lose the plot? I’ll give you my theory – and below, you can submit yours.

My theory: it wasn’t a car that caused BMW to lose it. It was an all-out, no-holds-barred sales-chasing mentality; the kind of mentality Chrysler has with the rental fleets. I think it was this strategy – and not the vehicles themselves – that led to the decline of BMW. Essentially, it was the moment the automaker went from “How can we make this car cooler?” to “Why don’t we have a vehicle in the all-wheel drive rhombus segment?”

Of course, the “sell everything” mentality dramatically affected the products. Out went the careful styling decisions and the restrained lineup; in came segment-busting products and low-payment lease deals. The 3 Series grew huge. The X1 came into existence. And the 5 Series went from “desirable and stealthy” to “enormous and anonymous.”

But in my opinion, none of that would’ve happened if BMW had remained happy with the status quo: build cool cars, and sell a lot of them. Not tons of them, mind you. Not zillions. Not eleven crossovers and twelve variants of the 3 Series. But enough cars to generate a big profit while retaining the “cool guy” image.

So, what say you? Where do you think BMW took a wrong turn?

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Question Of The Day: Would You Accept A V6 EcoBoost Mustang http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/question-day-accept-v6-ecoboost-mustang/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/question-day-accept-v6-ecoboost-mustang/#comments Fri, 16 Jan 2015 18:38:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=984617 I’m sure there’s a good reason it hasn’t been done yet, but I’m going to ask for it anyways: how about a 3.5L EcoBoost V6 Mustang? Why not call it a Shelby GT500? In an era where the Mustang V6 Performance Pack can put down respectable acceleration and lap times, it’s reasonable to expect that […]

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I’m sure there’s a good reason it hasn’t been done yet, but I’m going to ask for it anyways: how about a 3.5L EcoBoost V6 Mustang? Why not call it a Shelby GT500?

In an era where the Mustang V6 Performance Pack can put down respectable acceleration and lap times, it’s reasonable to expect that the public is ready for a high performance V6 twin-turbo pony car. Take the all-new anti-lag equipped 3.5L EB from the Raptor, crank the boost up to the GT’s 600+ horsepower output. Add a stick shift or the new 10-speed. You have a Hellcat competitor that also ties into Ford’s EcoBoost motorsports push.

I’m aware that the mere notion of a V6 EcoBoost Shelby GT500 will make the V8 faithful have a stroke, so maybe it needs another moniker. Call it the Cobra. Or the SVO. The Twin Turbo setup was a popular modification for the famed ’03-’04 “Terminator” Cobra. I think my proposed Mustang would be a hit, even with two fewer cylinders. It’s only a matter of time until Chevrolet get’s the same setup in the next-gen Camaro.

 

 

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Question of the Day: First Car Trip of Your Life? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/question-day-first-car-trip-life/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/question-day-first-car-trip-life/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 15:00:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=982889 It’s likely that most of us don’t remember the first time we ever rode in a motor vehicle— in most cases, that would be the ride home from the hospital after being born— but I’ll bet that most can figure out what that car, truck, motorcycle, or Comfortractor was. In my case, the first car […]

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QOTD-FirstCarRide-56OldsIt’s likely that most of us don’t remember the first time we ever rode in a motor vehicle— in most cases, that would be the ride home from the hospital after being born— but I’ll bet that most can figure out what that car, truck, motorcycle, or Comfortractor was. In my case, the first car I remember was my dad’s ’67 Ford Custom 500 sedan, but I happen to know that my first car ride was on icy Minneapolis streets in January of 1966, and that the car was a 1956 Oldsmobile 88. How about your first road trip?
QOTD-FirstCarRide-56Olds-2Sadly, the family Olds had bashed a deer a few weeks before I was born, and— being a ten-year-old car in Minnesota— was pretty rusty, anyway. It was gone not long after I made the scene, so have no memory of the roar of its mighty 324-cubic-inch Rocket V8. My dad still misses that Olds. All right, now let’s have your stories!

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Question Of The Day, Grandma Edition: Why Are EVs So Odd Looking? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/question-day-grandma-edition-evs-odd-looking/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/question-day-grandma-edition-evs-odd-looking/#comments Mon, 05 Jan 2015 16:46:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=971530 Today’s QOTD comes from Grandma, who is on vacation in Florida. Grandma writes: i have a a chevy sonic rental.  i parked it, it is so small it was a breeze   lots of 2014 mercedes sitting in dealer lots here.  saw 2 bmw electric cars.  the back lights look like the kia soul.  it […]

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Today’s QOTD comes from Grandma, who is on vacation in Florida. Grandma writes:

i have a a chevy sonic rental.  i parked it, it is so small it was a breeze   lots of 2014 mercedes sitting in dealer lots here.  saw 2 bmw electric cars.  the back lights look like the kia soul.  it looks cute, but none of the beemer [sic] sophistication.  don’t know why they have to make electric cars look so quirky.
Upon further questioning, it appears Grandma was asking about the BMW i3. Sixt is now renting out the i3 in the South Florida area, complete with burnt orange paint and giant Sixt logos. I didn’t really have a good answer for her, other than “people want to be seen driving an electric car”. In her mind, a Bimmer is still something you buy to show that you’ve “arrived” – but it’s not as good as a “Jag-you-are”.

 

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Question Of The Day: Auld Lang Syne http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/question-day-auld-lang-syne/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/question-day-auld-lang-syne/#comments Mon, 29 Dec 2014 15:40:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=969425 It’s not quite the 31st yet, but since a few of us won’t be at our computers on New Year’s Eve (*ahem*), I figured this is an opportune time to turn the floor over to the B&B. The question of the day is simple. What would you like to see more of in 2015? What […]

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It’s not quite the 31st yet, but since a few of us won’t be at our computers on New Year’s Eve (*ahem*), I figured this is an opportune time to turn the floor over to the B&B.

The question of the day is simple. What would you like to see more of in 2015? What would you like to see less of? This is *your* site, and we serve you, not the manufacturers or the advertisers or anybody else. Let us know. We’ll be paying attention.

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Question Of The Day: What Do You Drive? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/question-day-drive/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/question-day-drive/#comments Fri, 05 Dec 2014 17:06:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=955850 Today’s Question of the Day is remarkably simple, but it took a reader suggestion to make it appear. Reader David J. wrote in this morning, stating TTAC is not short of opinions about cars. I would like to see each submitted state the car or truck, SUV, etc he or she owns or leases. Here’s […]

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Today’s Question of the Day is remarkably simple, but it took a reader suggestion to make it appear.

Reader David J. wrote in this morning, stating

TTAC is not short of opinions about cars. I would like to see each submitted state the car or truck, SUV, etc he or she owns or leases. Here’s a start for me: own a 2010 model Prius V and a 2014 Audi Q5.

We know that some commenters are linked with certain cars (Davefromcalgary and his Verano 2.0T 6MT, CoreyDL and his Audi) but I’d be interested to see a snapshot of what everyone else drives.

I’ll start: 2015 Mazda3 Sport. Previous cars are a 2003 Mazda Miata Shinsen, a 1998 Volvo V70 (5-speed manual) and a 1997 Miata in British Racing Green.

 

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Question Of The Day: This Time It’s Different? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/question-day-time-different/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/question-day-time-different/#comments Thu, 27 Nov 2014 15:51:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=952161 On the news of OPEC’s decision to keep oil production at current levels, there is almost certainly going to be a rout in the price of oil. As of this writing, Gasoline futures are below the $2 mark, while West Texas Intermediate (the North American crude oil benchmark) is sitting at about $71.50, down from […]

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On the news of OPEC’s decision to keep oil production at current levels, there is almost certainly going to be a rout in the price of oil.

As of this writing, Gasoline futures are below the $2 mark, while West Texas Intermediate (the North American crude oil benchmark) is sitting at about $71.50, down from a high of $105 this summer. Gas prices are sure to sink even lower alongside the expected dip in crude.

The big question in my mind is how this will influence consumer behavior in the auto sector. Since the Great Financial Crisis, auto makers have positioned themselves for marked increases in fuel economy, spurred by equal parts consumer demand and government mandates (CAFE and Euro emissions regulations). This has manifested itself in everything from incremental (more efficient powertrains) to extreme (the aluminum F-150).

With gasoline at record highs, the demand for smaller, fuel-efficient cars is acute. But when the price dips, consumers tend to forget about the hard times and gravitate back towards pickups, SUVs and all manner of gas guzzlers.

Or do they?

Over the following months, we’ll be able to track what happens to auto sales and the price of gasoline. Our sales guru Tim Cain will be able to plot the results in one of his trademark charts.

Personally, I suspect that we’ll see more short-term thinking when it comes to vehicle purchases. Sales of SUVs, trucks and larger crossovers will keep rising. Small crossovers will eat into sales of passenger cars, likely stealing market share from compact cars once nameplates like the Chevrolet Trax and Honda HR-V hit the market. The hard times will quickly be forgotten…until the next rise in gas prices and economic contraction. In the mean time, it’s going to be a rough market for hybrids and EVs.

But I’m curious to hear what you have to say. With no formal training in economics or business, all I can do is go with my gut. I’m curious to hear your analysis, whether its rooted in the same methodology as mine, or something more concrete and quantitative.

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QOTD: Another Member Of The Brown Wagon Club? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/qotd-another-member-brown-wagon-club/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/qotd-another-member-brown-wagon-club/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 13:32:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=933906 While helping my grandmother hunt for a new car, I tried to steer her towards a Mazda3 Sport. She didn’t take to the “game changer” (which is the tagline for the car’s marketing campaign, not an attempt to cash in on my catch phrase), but I did notice a similar example on the lot. This […]

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While helping my grandmother hunt for a new car, I tried to steer her towards a Mazda3 Sport. She didn’t take to the “game changer” (which is the tagline for the car’s marketing campaign, not an attempt to cash in on my catch phrase), but I did notice a similar example on the lot.

This color, called “Titanium Flash”, looks more like brown to me. As far as I’m concerned, the line between station wagon, hatchback and CUV has been sufficiently blurred that this can qualify as a member of the mythical brown wagon species – and you can get it in a manual as well. I’ll defer to the B&B on this one, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s time to count every possible example to help shore up ranks.

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Question of the Day: What Was the Worst 1982 Car Sold In America? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/question-day-worst-1982-car-sold-america/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/question-day-worst-1982-car-sold-america/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 13:00:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=919962 Last weekend, while I was helping to run the seventh annual 24 Hours of LeMons Fall South race, I got into a debate with LeMons Chief Perp Jay Lamm over which team should get the accomplished-the-most-with-the-worst-car trophy, the Index of Effluency. The 1982 Renault Fuego Turbo of Interceptor Motorsports, which made its debut at that […]

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Last weekend, while I was helping to run the seventh annual 24 Hours of LeMons Fall South race, I got into a debate with LeMons Chief Perp Jay Lamm over which team should get the accomplished-the-most-with-the-worst-car trophy, the Index of Effluency. The 1982 Renault Fuego Turbo of Interceptor Motorsports, which made its debut at that race, managed to turn 19 laps during two days of racing (the winner did 377 laps) and finished 105th out of 110 entries. My opinion was that the Fuego Turbo was the worst car sold in the United States in 1982 and thus Interceptor Motorsports deserved Index of Effluency recognition for their achievement, but the Chief Perp felt that plenty of Detroit-built cars from the Malaise Era were even worse. In the end, we gave the prize to a 1979 Wagon Queen Family Truckster (which finished in P73), but I still think that you’d be hard-pressed to find any 1982 model-year car that approaches the Renault Fuego Turbo for across-the-board terribleness.
QOTD-WorstCarOf1982-PhoenixTo avoid veering off into tangents about production-run-of-27-cars oddball stuff or non-car abominations such as the Comuta-Car, cars to be considered must be 1982 model-year vehicles sold in at least four-figure quantities in the United States. So, with 32 years of hindsight, what was that profoundly bad car, the biggest mistake you could make when car-shopping in 1982? The Fiat Strada? The Chevy Citation and its siblings? The Cadillac Deville with V8-6-4 engine? The Datsun F10? Ford EXP? You decide!

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Question Of The Day: Carros Blindados http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/question-day-carros-blindados/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/question-day-carros-blindados/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 11:00:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=899434 A few days ago, Jalopnik posted a link to a classified site in Colombia that listed a bunch of armored cars for sale. These aren’t the MRAPs patroling the streets of Ferguson either. Hell, they’re even more discreet than the typical black Suburbans you see roaming around D.C. In many parts of the world, those who […]

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A few days ago, Jalopnik posted a link to a classified site in Colombia that listed a bunch of armored cars for sale. These aren’t the MRAPs patroling the streets of Ferguson either. Hell, they’re even more discreet than the typical black Suburbans you see roaming around D.C.

In many parts of the world, those who are fortunate enough to afford a new (or relatively new) car are also the kind of people who are targeted for robbery, violent crimes or even kidnappings. An armored car is often a necessary requirement for daily life. The extra protection afford by the bulletproof glass and body panels can stop (but not completely hold off) an attack, and let you make a safe getaway. Other, more heavily armored vehicles have James Bond-esque features like smoke screens, sirens and gun ports.

These are often the Land Cruisers, Suburbans, Nissan Patrols and other SUVs that can withstand an AK-47. The body-on-frame construction is better able to withstand the added weight of the heavy armored body panels and glass. Smaller passenger cars are typically built to withstand attacks from a 9mm round (or a more powerful handgun round should it be required). A Renault Sandero appears to be a common type of lightly armored car in Colombia, although if you’re a badge snob, nearly twice that money will get you an Audi A1.

As much as I’d like a bulletproof Land Cruiser, this old Honda Legend is my ultimate choice. It looks old, and is therefore nondescript, a good quality to have in a dangerous environment. It appears to be nicely maintained, and it should be as reliable as any Honda product. And it represents the pinnacle of Honda’s mainstream passenger cars.

Check out the listings here and tell me what you’d pick.

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Question Of The Day: America’s Finest Hour http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/question-of-the-day-americas-finest-hour/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/question-of-the-day-americas-finest-hour/#comments Fri, 04 Jul 2014 14:34:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=858657 In honor of Independence Day, I’d like to pose a simple question to you all. What is America’s Finest Automotive Hour? As many of you know, I have not lived that many years on this earth, and so I lack the context to properly look back upon America’s auto industry and judge for myself. A […]

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In honor of Independence Day, I’d like to pose a simple question to you all. What is America’s Finest Automotive Hour?

As many of you know, I have not lived that many years on this earth, and so I lack the context to properly look back upon America’s auto industry and judge for myself. A few things come to mind: the Ford Taurus, the Chrysler minivans and the LS1 V8 come to mind as beacons of innovation. The Ford Fiesta ST and Jeep Grand Cherokee stand out as “fun to drive” all-stars. I am constantly blown away by all three domestic pickup trucks, which I think represent the finest American-made vehicles at any price.

But I’m Canadian. And old enough to be your kid (in many cases). Tell us what you think stands out as a high point for the American automobile. The best answers submitted by the end of business will get highlighted in a separate post.

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Question Of The Day: What Does Japan Know About Fuel Cells That We Don’t? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/question-of-the-day-what-does-japan-know-about-fuel-cells-that-we-dont/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/question-of-the-day-what-does-japan-know-about-fuel-cells-that-we-dont/#comments Mon, 30 Jun 2014 16:39:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=855985 A new report from Reuters highlight’s the Japanese auto industry’s increasing focus on hydrogen fuel cells, a technology that has long been written off as dead by many industry observers and battery electric vehicle advocates. Reuters reports Japan’s government and top carmakers, including Toyota Motor Corp, are joining forces to bet big that they can speed […]

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A new report from Reuters highlight’s the Japanese auto industry’s increasing focus on hydrogen fuel cells, a technology that has long been written off as dead by many industry observers and battery electric vehicle advocates.

Reuters reports

Japan’s government and top carmakers, including Toyota Motor Corp, are joining forces to bet big that they can speed up the arrival of the fuel cell era: a still costly and complex technology that uses hydrogen as fuel and could virtually end the problem of automotive pollution…With two of Japan’s three biggest automakers going all in on fuel cells, the country’s long-term future as an automotive powerhouse could now hinge largely on the success of what they hope will be a key technology of the next few decades.

While Nissan is a notable holdout (pursuing battery EVs like their signature Nissan Leaf), Toyota and Honda are pursuing hydrogen as the alternative fuel of the future, and they have the backing of the Japanese government.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s growth strategy… also included a call for subsidies and tax breaks for buyers of fuel-cell vehicles, relaxed curbs on hydrogen fuel stations and other steps under a road map to promote hydrogen energy.

While Honda has been promoting fuel cell technology since the 1990’s, Toyota recently abandoned their EV program in favor of focusing on hydrogen. Despite all of the criticism of hydrogen fuel cells, their cost and the lack of infrastructure, the technology is still alive in this corner of the automotive world – one that is arguably the leader in hybrid cars and alternative powertrains overall.

Industry scuttlebutt has it that Japanese OEMs are convinced that the cost of developing a hydrogen fuel station network is going to be cheaper than developing a 500 mile EV battery, but I’m still curious: what are we the public – and the hydrogen skeptics – missing out on that’s driving Japan to persist with fuel cell technology?

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Question Of The Day: What Was Your Closest Call? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/question-of-the-day-what-was-your-closest-call/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/question-of-the-day-what-was-your-closest-call/#comments Mon, 23 Jun 2014 18:28:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=850290 Well, I nearly died today. I was driving on a winding one lane road, when  a silver mid-2000’s Dodge Ram Club Cab broke through the double yellow, and swerved halfway into my lane. My car was a 7 year old Toyota Corolla, and if it weren’t for a last split-second swerve, I would have been […]

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Well, I nearly died today.

I was driving on a winding one lane road, when  a silver mid-2000’s Dodge Ram Club Cab broke through the double yellow, and swerved halfway into my lane.

My car was a 7 year old Toyota Corolla, and if it weren’t for a last split-second swerve, I would have been dead. No question about it.

The surprising thing about the experience was my lack of a frazzled state immediately afterwards. I drove a couple hundred feet more, thanked God, did a U-turn at the nearby precinct headquarters, and dialed 911.

For all I knew it could have been anything that caused the near death experience. Texting, drugs, a spilled drink, a medical emergency… anything. But I surely wasn’t going to let that vehicle remain on the road without police involvement.

caught up with the truck enough to see it turn right onto a dead end street and stayed on the phone with the dispatcher for about 10 more minutes. The driver stayed in the car the entire time. No words between us. Nothing but me and a dispatcher, who told me that three police cars were already on their way. I kept the Corolla a good 700 feet away on the top of a large hill. I wasn’t going to play hero. But at the same time, I was betting that Atlanta’s 95 degree weather with 90% humidity would discourage the driver from coming out of his car.

Sure enough, he just stayed where he was at. 

Once the police showed up, I told them the story I just told you. They confronted what turned out to be a guy who had sweated out of his shirt. He was animate, allegedly he was working on the home where he was parked, and it took a good five minutes or so before the police were willing to let him speak with me.

“I’m sorry. I just spilled my drink and I know I crossed that yellow line. I’m really sorry.”

“I just wanted to make sure you weren’t impaired, or texting, or something like that.”

We shook hands, and it seemed like every 15 to 20 seconds, he was apologizing and trying to shake my hand again. I wish I had told one of the police officers to corroborate the spilled drink and other parts of his story. They don’t add up now. But to be honest, all I was thinking then was that my family could have experienced the worst day of our collective lives. His alibi was not my concern.

I thanked the officers and got the hell out of there. And now, well, I’m a bit frazzled. A neverending march of random questions goes through your mind when you experience something like this.

Do I stop driving compacts? Do I share what happened with my family? There’s a life lesson here, and I’m going to have to dwell on the ramifications for quite a while.

I’ve experienced plenty of close calls before. When I worked the Atlanta auction circuit I used to drive over 40,000 miles a year through three states as a ringman, and later, an auctioneer. But I never experienced anything quite like this in terms of a split second difference between life and death.  A 40 mph head on would have made me a corpse, and my family is sometimes the only damn thing I give a shit about in this world. I would rather endure the trials of Job than to leave them in such a terrible state.

This is why I like the idea of  self-driving cars and crash avoidance systems in general. I love cars, but if I had to make a deal with an angel and trade in my keys for the chance to simply stay on this Earth and be with my family, I would pack up our belongings and move away from the ex-urbs of Atlanta in a millisecond. New York City, Amsterdam, Costa Rica. Anywhere I could walk would be fine with me.

I need to get some perspective here folks, and maybe a good story or two would be the right prescription. So let me ask you, what was your closest call? More importantly, what impact did it have on the future of your driving?

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QOTD: Would You Ever Pay For A Stripper? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/qotd-would-you-ever-pay-for-a-stripper/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/qotd-would-you-ever-pay-for-a-stripper/#comments Fri, 20 Jun 2014 17:10:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=848106 No nav. No leather. No premium or power nuttin’. All yours for $12,800 before fees, tax, tag, title. You don’t want it? Don’t think you’re alone. Strippers have represented America’s premiere unsellable car for quite a while now. Everyone says that they just need a car to get from A to B. But easy credit […]

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versa

No nav.

No leather.

No premium or power nuttin’.

All yours for $12,800 before fees, tax, tag, title.

You don’t want it? Don’t think you’re alone. Strippers have represented America’s premiere unsellable car for quite a while now.

Everyone says that they just need a car to get from A to B. But easy credit and low monthly payments have made basic low-end models as popular as a 2014 Toyota Camry L and as hard to find as, well. I’ll put it to you this way: there are now three L models available in Atlanta for a population of six million.

Don’t think that Toyota is alone on this. There is only one Nissan Versa S with a five-speed that you can buy here for less than $13,000. Not one trim level. One car. When Honda was busy liquidating the last of their 2012 Accords for the new generation, my nearby Honda dealer still had two base five-speed Accords on their lot. One had been there for 10 months and the other had remained unloved, and unsold, for nearly a year and a half. They were each bought for only $17,300 which sounds like a fantastic buy, except that a few months later I would see an identically equipped 2012 Accord go through the auction, with fewer than 8,000 miles, sell for all of $10,000.

It didn’t have dents, dings, damage or even dowdiness. It was just a base car, and these days, base cars don’t sell.

There are a lot of reasons for this lack of attention to what I now call, the disappearing stripper. An article I recently wrote for Yahoo! pretty much highlights the financial mindset of today’s customer versus those of just a decade ago. It’s a different car market out there. The economy may still be in the slow growth to recession mode here in the USA. But we still like our creature comforts, and the good price really comes second these days to the “affordable” monthly payment. So long as loan terms remain long, and interest rates remain low, that better equipped car will usually only cost an extra $20 to $50. Even cash strapped buyers can afford that wiggle room.

I always get emails from folks who want a deal, and I always try to tell these folks  to hit em’ where they ain’t. But few folks are ever willing to take that plunge. So far in 2014, I have known only one guy who was willing to buy a stripper car, brand new, for cheap money. $14,000 out the door for a Mazda 2. If he had been in one of the five states with no tax, he could have sliced another $1000 off that price.

He bought it right. So let me ask you. Would you have taken that deal? How about a base MX-5 or a Mazda 3 with nothing but a stickshift and that olfactory new car smell? Before you instinctively say yes, take the time to go online and look at the vehicle as it is so equipped.

Would you ever pay for a stripper?  If not, then just feel free to share your story of a stripper you once owned and rode on a daily basis. It’s a Friday and we can all use the laughs.

 

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Question Of The Day: What Lame Duck New Car Is Worth Your Bills? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/question-of-the-day-what-lame-duck-new-car-is-worth-your-bills/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/question-of-the-day-what-lame-duck-new-car-is-worth-your-bills/#comments Wed, 18 Jun 2014 10:30:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=845569 I always tell folks that they should try to hit em’ where they ain’t. Want a Camry? Look at a Mazda 6 first. A Prius C? One of my personal favorites.  But I still have a soft spot for far cheaper closeout models like the Mazda 2 and Ford Fiesta. You may also wind up […]

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I always tell folks that they should try to hit em’ where they ain’t.

Want a Camry? Look at a Mazda 6 first.

A Prius C? One of my personal favorites.  But I still have a soft spot for far cheaper closeout models like the Mazda 2 and Ford Fiesta. You may also wind up enjoying them a lot more in the long run.

That final year of a model’s run can sometimes provide that unique, one-time steal of a deal that would put today’s popular car to shame. There is a unique value quotient that frequently can’t be replicated with the brand new stuff, once rebates and slacking consumer demand start chipping away at the true cost of purchase.

So speaking of new cars…

One of our frequent commenters, tryochatter, was recently in the market for a brand new vehicle. His first in about a decade or so.

His tastes are a bit Y2K oriented. He doesn’t care about navigation systems, infotainment modules, or any of the other premium offerings that help boost the MSRP of a given new car to a healthy 15% to 25% premium.

Like a lot of us, he’s a rare breed in today’s marketplace. Stickshift, basic Ipod integration, comfortable seating for two, with maybe four in a very tight pinch, and one other small thing.

Airbags. In his words, he wanted a car that had, “enough airbags to turn the whole mess into a volleyball if need be.”. These days, even a base entry level car like the Chevy Spark comes with 10 airbags. So this wasn’t a tough hill to climb.

The car he wanted was listed for $15,515. One day of negotiating, and waiting… and waiting… and he finally bought his next new car. A 2014 Mazda 2 for $13,000 before the usual tax and potential bogus fees were added on. In Ohio, this came to just below $14,000 after tax, tag and title.

He loves it.  The monthly payments are reasonable, and with a new job within biking distance from his home, he is probably not going to need another new car until the oldest of the Millenials start hitting their 40’s.

This isn’t a common happy ending for what many in our industry call, “the lame duck cars”. Popular cars get the spotlights, auto show turntables,  and dealer traffic. While those about to be axed or replaced will usually get the moonlight that is the back of the new car lot.

Are those lame duck cars the better buy? Well,  I’ll put it to you this way. My late father was incredible at getting these types of cars at a rock bottom price. The 1992 Lincoln Mark VII that had an MSRP of $33,000, he pretty much stole it at $22,000. The leftover 2001 Lexus ES300 that followed also got a nice, but more moderate discount.

He had a knack for buying great cars during their final year of production, and with the daily driving he did around the third world roads of northern New Jersey, he wanted a car that could handle that daily brutality.

If he had bought a 1993 Dodge Dynasty, or a four door 1993 Saab 900, chances are I wouldn’t be bragging about it, and he would have quickly changed his strategy.       

So this is the question I want you to consider. If you had to buy a new car that is in its final year of production, which one would you choose? Keep in mind you’re spending your own dollars here. Let’s assume that this is a car you plan on keeping for a long while.

Which one would you pick?

Have a question? An Insight? A lame duck, first generation Honda Insight? Please feel free to contact Steve at steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com 

 

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QOTD: Bring Back the Unibody Pickup? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/qotd-bring-back-the-unibody-pickup/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/qotd-bring-back-the-unibody-pickup/#comments Thu, 05 Jun 2014 13:35:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=837665 For decades, the formula for a successful pickup design in America has been pretty much the same. Design a simple ladder-frame chassis, drop in the biggest engine you can find, give it a front-engine rear-drive layout with an optional transfer case, and start raking in the money. From time to time, however, manufacturers have tried […]

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For decades, the formula for a successful pickup design in America has been pretty much the same. Design a simple ladder-frame chassis, drop in the biggest engine you can find, give it a front-engine rear-drive layout with an optional transfer case, and start raking in the money. From time to time, however, manufacturers have tried to swim against the current.

The last true unibody pickup (one without any type of traditional ladder frame) sold in the United States was the Subaru Baja, which ended production in 2006. A derivative of the Legacy/Outback platform, the Baja was Subaru’s attempt to cash in on the mid-2000s vogue for “sport utility trucks:” part-SUV hybrids like the Ford Explorer Sport Trac and the Chevrolet Avalanche. While those more successful models were selling well over 50,000 a year at their peak, the Subie barely managed to shift 30,000 examples in a four year run. With its funky body cladding, exposed rollbars, and limited utility compared to those other truck-based SUTs with traditional ladder-frame chassis, the Baja never managed to become anything but a niche product. Even so, it followed in a long lineage of experiments with unibody construction for pickups.

The golden age of the unibody pickup was the 60s, when every major manufacturer offered at least one. Ford had the Falcon-derived Ranchero, as well as a pickup based on the Econoline van. (The 1961-63 full-size F100 is often cited as an example of a unibody pickup design, but as Mike Levine explains here, this is technically incorrect. The ‘61-63 still had a ladder frame underneath its single-piece body.) Chevrolet had a similar offering in the Corvair Greenbrier pickup, although the more popular El Camino utilized a ladder frame. Dodge got in the unibody game with the pickup version of its A100 van. The pickup version of the Type 2 Volkswagen Transporter was increasingly popular in the burgeoning small truck segment before it became a target of the infamous Chicken Tax. That tariff also kept out the Japanese, who might otherwise have attempted to sell car-based pickups such as the Toyota Corona PU. The most popular of all these unibody pickups was the Falcon Ranchero. It offered meaningful size and economy advantages over the full-size trucks of the time, and was available with a greater number of creature comforts.

Many of these unibody pickups disappeared in the 70s, as compact, conventionally engineered Japanese pickups became more widely available. Many of these were captive imports sold by the Big 3, who utilized tricks like importing cab-chassis units separately to avoid the Chicken Tax. Unibody pickups didn’t reappear again until the 1980s. The Subaru BRAT was the first of these, followed by the Rabbit-based Volkswagen Pick-Up. The Volkswagen PU was an attempt to squeeze more volume out of the disappointingly slow-selling Rabbit; the Dodge Rampage and Plymouth Scamp were similar attempts to expand the use of Chrysler’s L Platform. Neither of those was particularly successful, with both the Volkswagen and Rampage/Scamp cancelled after only three years. The BRAT was reasonably popular, lasting in the US market until 1987. The Jeep Comanche was based on the unibody XJ Cherokee, but used a ladder frame to strengthen the superstructure. Around 190,000 units were produced before new Jeep owner Chrysler called it quits in 1992; the company didn’t want the Comanche cannibalizing Dodge’s truck offerings. After that, there were no more unibody trucks in the United States until the introduction of the Baja. Cheap gas and a slew of competitive ladder-frame pickups meant that the incentive to develop a unibody pickup was limited.

Like Subaru, Honda tried to cash in on the SUT trend with the Ridgeline. Although based off the unibody Odyssey minivan, the Ridgeline utilizes a hybrid chassis setup that incorporates a box frame. Sales have been disappointing, with the model scheduled to go out of production this month, although a sequel has been promised by Honda. The Ridgeline is often cited by midsize truck pessimists as emblematic of the reasons the segment has gone into decline. The truck offers no serious fuel economy advantage over a full-sizer. It also has a smaller bed, a lower tow rating, and less power, all in a footprint not much smaller than that of a full-size. Attempting to straddle segments was the Ridgeline’s doom. Buyers who wanted power, room, towing and hauling capability, and who didn’t care about mileage bought Avalanches, Sport Tracs, and full-sizers. Economy-minded individuals went for the cheaper, more utilitarian options like the Frontier and Tacoma. None of these alternatives were particularly great on gas, but neither was the Ridgeline; and they all offered price and/or capability advantages that the Ridgeline didn’t have. That doesn’t mean, however, that the unibody truck should necessarily go the way of the dodo.

The greatest argument against a renaissance in the small-to-midsize truck segment is profitability. Small trucks often have thin margins, and it’s hard to justify separate development programs for unique platforms. That’s ultimately what killed the Ranger in the United States, as well as the Dakota. GM is spreading out the development cost of the new Colorado/Canyon by making it a world market vehicle, but it remains to be seen if this strategy will work. Only the Tacoma has proven to be a consistent winner in the US market, and it also has the advantage of being globally sold; the same is true of the new Frontier. A US-only compact truck platform is a mistake. Repealing the Chicken Tax might open up the market to more imports, but ideally a compact truck would be developed from a platform already in use in the US. This would lower the cost of federalization, while at the same time increasing the margin derived from already existing platforms. That’s where unibody design comes in.

America is awash in unibody CUVs, whose platforms could be utilized to make compact and midsize trucks. The Chevrolet Montana/Tornado has been mentioned by small-truck aficionados as a possible import, but the cost of certifying it for American sale would probably be prohibitive. Instead, it would make more sense for GM to develop a small truck from either the Theta or Epsilon architectures, both of which have already been adapted for the American market. A small truck based on the Equinox, for example, might be profitably produced for the American market. If a small truck can offer significant price or fuel economy advantages over full-sizers, it can justify its existence against highly competitive full-size offerings. Even so, doubts remain about the segment’s overall viability. FCA chairman Sergio Marchionne recently alluded to this when discussing possible plans for a future compact pickup in the United States. Could a unibody truck be the savior of the compact truck segment?

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Question Of The Day: Should Manufacturers Be Held Liable For Lifetime Fluids? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/question-of-the-day-should-manufacturers-be-held-liable-for-lifetime-fluids/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/question-of-the-day-should-manufacturers-be-held-liable-for-lifetime-fluids/#comments Thu, 29 May 2014 10:17:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=833386 Some cars out there are as rough as a wore out mop. It always pains me to see them because there are so many folks in this world who are all too happy to own a car. Even one that may seem to be worth more dead than alive by the present idiot driving it. […]

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Some cars out there are as rough as a wore out mop.

It always pains me to see them because there are so many folks in this world who are all too happy to own a car. Even one that may seem to be worth more dead than alive by the present idiot driving it.

My father was a food importer for 60 years. I got to see a lot of this world and, to be frank, our society is a bit spoiled by the inherent affluence within it.

What some destroy, others would cherish.

However, there is one screw-up that always ticks me off to no end in the car business because it’s based on false information. The one where the manufacturer plays a game with the future reliability of their vehicle in exchange for a potential accolade known as low ownership costs.

The lifetime fluid. To me it’s a false promise that has cost too many people, too much money, to no fault of their own. Let’s start with that simple word, lifetime, and weigh in the full effect of that word.

Lifetime is a pretty simple word where I grew up. Two syllables. One unmistakable connotation.

Lifetime means the duration of a person’s or thing’s existence. From beginning to end. There is no intermission. No limit to the lifespan. What starts must be finished. No matter how long or short it may be.

Yet certain fluids get a complete pass on this concept. Thanks to a nice meeting of the minds between the manufacturer’s legal team and the marketeers who go about promoting what is in essence, a lie.

Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Volvo, Toyota, GM, Ford, Mazda, Chrysler. The list of manufacturers that have signed onto the lifetime fluid line is now as long, as the number of affordable replacements for their older defective parts is short.

For example, I have a lot of trouble finding a good transmission for many older vehicles these days that were sealed with lifetime fluids. Even those components whose production runs number well into the six-digits.

Why? Because these transmissions were given maintenance schedules that had no remote connection with reality. In the end, tens of thousands of owners got screwed because they took faith in the automaker’s lifetime fluid and the maintenance schedule that removed the need to service it.

The manufacturer walked away with the profits, and a guarantee that is inherently deceptive and insincere. There is no other way of putting it.

When you say the word “lifetime” to someone, they don’t think about five years or, in the case of a car, 100,000 miles.

They think, “Oh. I will never have to worry about this. Great!” The owner gets to rave about the minimal service required over the first five years and the manufacturer may even find an extra industry award or two to advertise due to their supposed low ownership costs.

A warranty is most definitely a warranty, with limits and specifics. A deal is a deal. However when you use the word “lifetime” to describe the durability of a product, that word has a strong and obvious guarantee within it.

You are stating, in a brutally blunt manner, that the fluid will remain useful and defect free for the entire life of the vehicle.

What would be a reasonable solution to the idea of a lifetime fluid? Pretty simple really. Just have it walk the walk.

Approximately .01% of trade-ins these days will last 500,000 miles. If your vehicle’s component can last that long, and you are willing to warranty that guarantee, then bless you for truly changing the economics of ownership.

Please step up to the microphone of American advertising, shout out that sacred word known as lifetime, and put your amazing product on a durability level with other true lifetime products such as the Ginsu knife and the Garden Weasel.

If it can’t, then don’t. Just let folks know the truth about the useful life of your products. If this concept is too hard to contemplate for the unethical and amoral, then maybe we need to put forth new laws that will protect consumers from this bastardization of the English language.

In today’s courts, the right for individuals to sue is but a pittance compared to the right of large corporations and governments to screw them into a financial corner well before a court can put the case before a grand jury. Life may not be perfect or fair. But there is a completeness to that word lifetime and it should be honored.

Lifetime should mean the lifetime of it’s use. You say it as a seller and the product breaks, you pay for it along with everything else that got broke because of it.

Should manufacturers be held liable for lifetime fluids? I’ve already pounded my personal opinion into a fine red mist. So what’s yours?

Author’s Note: I can be reached at steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com

 

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Question: If the Hindustan Ambassador Is No More, What Car Takes Over As Current Continuous-Production King? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/question-if-the-hindustan-ambassador-is-no-more-what-car-takes-over-as-current-continuous-production-king/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/question-if-the-hindustan-ambassador-is-no-more-what-car-takes-over-as-current-continuous-production-king/#comments Wed, 28 May 2014 14:30:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=832962 As we all know by now, Hindustan Motors has shut down the production line for the venerable Hindustan Ambassador, a car whose production run stretches all the way back to 1954 and the Morris Oxford II… or, depending on how strict your interpretation of the definition of “same car” happens to be— the 1948 Morris […]

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QOTD - VAZ-1111 Oka DimensionsAs we all know by now, Hindustan Motors has shut down the production line for the venerable Hindustan Ambassador, a car whose production run stretches all the way back to 1954 and the Morris Oxford II… or, depending on how strict your interpretation of the definition of “same car” happens to be— the 1948 Morris Oxford MO. Whether it’s a Type 1 Beetle-beating 66 years or just a merely staggering 60 years, the passing of the Amby means that the acrimonious debate must begin: which current car has been in continuous production, in more or less the same form, for the most years?
Survivors-Lada_Niva-1280pxWhat we’re talking about here isn’t the longest continuous use of a model name (though the Chevy Suburban and Mercedes-Benz SL fanatics make that issue interesting), it’s the longest continuous manufacture of what amounts to the same car. Now, the reason that this discussion can and must turn into a crockery-throwing, ad hominemming brawl is that the definitions are inherently squirmy things that nobody can pin down to anybody’s satisfaction. What distinguishes a car from a truck? What distinguishes a true production car from a low-numbers novelty? How much can a platform change before it’s a different machine? Does an interruption of the assembly line due to war count? What about pirated copies built in a dirt-floored Guangzhou shack? When I wrote the Automotive Survivors series (in which I honored cars built for at least 20 years) for Jalopnik in 2009, I received more hate mail than with any piece of writing I’ve done before or since. “You idiot!” they read, “Don’t you know that the (Volvo 240, Ford Model T, Land Rover, Hundred Flowers BXX-991D) qualifies?”
Survivors-Caterham_Seven-1280pxI’m going to avoid the death threats from the Hundred Flowers BXX-991D Jihad this time, by leaving the question up to you, dear readers. You will go in the comments and posit the cars you think have been built in unchanged-enough-for-the-purposes-of-this-debate form for the longest consecutive streak of years, and then your fellow readers will tell you that you suck, and then you will epoxy down your CAPS LOCK key and the fun will begin.
Survivors-ShanghaiSC760-1280pxI’m going to be like Wotan here, staying above the fray (actually, the real Wotan would start blasting fools left and right, but you get the idea), but I will point you in the direction of some cars I think have a case for the Longest Production crown. The Morgan 4/4 has been built in much the same form and without a break since 1955 (since 1936 if you ignore a couple of breaks). The Lotus Seven goes straight back to 1957, if you count all the many copies in recent decades. If you want to be stricter about definitions and look at cars built in large numbers, the demise of such cars as the Fiat 128 (built until very recently in Egypt), Hillman Hunter/Iran Khodro Paykan (built in Sudan until who-knows-when), and the South African Mk1 Golf (2009) makes for some tough judgment calls. The Lada Niva has been around since 1977, but many will say that it’s actually a truck. The 1986-vintage Kia Pride/Ford FestivaMazda 121 is still being built in Iran as the Saipa 132. The VAZ-1111 goes back to 1988. They’re still building Daihatsu Charades in China, and you could argue that we’re talking about a 1977 car in that case. Vague rumors point to current Chrysler K-car production somewhere in the former Soviet Union. So much to talk about here!

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QOTD: Nassim Taleb Sums Up The Problem With Our Favorite Car Makers http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/qotd-nassim-taleb-sums-up-the-problem-with-our-favorite-car-makers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/qotd-nassim-taleb-sums-up-the-problem-with-our-favorite-car-makers/#comments Fri, 23 May 2014 11:00:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=829009 In roughly 50 words, author Nassim Taleb neatly summarizes the answer to every essay ever penned about how “Car Company X Has Lost Its Way”. Speaking about our higher education system and its flaws, Taleb writes “This is the natural evolution of every enterprise under the curse of success: from making a good into selling […]

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In roughly 50 words, author Nassim Taleb neatly summarizes the answer to every essay ever penned about how “Car Company X Has Lost Its Way”.

Speaking about our higher education system and its flaws, Taleb writes

“This is the natural evolution of every enterprise under the curse of success: from making a good into selling the good, into progressively selling what looks like the good, then going bust after they run out of suckers and the story repeats itself …”

From Honda to BMW to Lamborghini, it’s difficult to look around and not see examples of this phenomenon at work. On the other hand, there is Lotus, a company that has arguably avoided this trap, while also avoiding any semblance of profitability. But I don’t have the benefit of context and life experience compared to many of the B&B.

Personally, I think that the vehicle above is most symbolic of what Taleb is describing: a front-drive BMW minivan wearing an “M Sport” appearance package. Is there anything further from the platonic ideal of “The Ultimate Driving Machine”?

But I also want your opinion. I want to hear who has fallen into this trap, who had avoided it, who is most in danger and why this is complete and utter BS. Post your reply in the comments.

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Question Of The Day: Would It Be Better To Test Drive A New Car… Without The Dealership? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/question-of-the-day-would-it-be-better-to-test-drive-a-new-car-without-the-dealership/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/question-of-the-day-would-it-be-better-to-test-drive-a-new-car-without-the-dealership/#comments Tue, 13 May 2014 10:40:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=819593 Imagine over 500 cars at your disposal, and you pick the exact ones you want to test on the open road. There are no mind games. No bait and switch tactics. Nothing but you going to a computer, figuring out the most worthy candidates, and letting a salaried employee fetch the keys and answer the […]

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Imagine over 500 cars at your disposal, and you pick the exact ones you want to test on the open road.

There are no mind games. No bait and switch tactics. Nothing but you going to a computer, figuring out the most worthy candidates, and letting a salaried employee fetch the keys and answer the relevant questions to your car search.

Sounds too good to be true? Well, it’s already happened. There’s only one problem.

The place that does it primarily sells used cars, not new cars.

 

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Thanks in part to the inordinate hassles of buying a car, Carmax is now the largest automotive retailer in the United States. In fact, they are now bigger than the #2 and #3 automotive retailers combined. They managed to do this tall order with just a small fraction of storefronts, and without the easy access to certain financing sources that help new car dealerships move their inventory. This is no small feat given the level of hardball tactics dealer lobbies usually inflict on state legislatures.

The almost universal desire to get away from bias and manipulation is a huge challenge for millions of new car buyers. Who offers the best car? It’s hard to say when advertising is all over the place and the chance to test drive all the new cars, without blatant bias at nearly every turn, is virtually impossible.

For consumers who are often firmly entrenched in the online search for a new car, the 21st century new car buying decision still hits the thick brick wall that is the early 20th century method of retailing cars.

The inherent costs to the Carmax model, for example, is still in the several billions of dollars even though they contract out a lot of their reconditioning activities. Between purchasing 500,000+ vehicles, investing in the real estate and physical infrastructure, hiring and training thousands of employees, designing the transportation logistics and the myriad of IT platforms, and finally, looking out for shareholders, Carmax can’t afford to offer the lowest price on a routine basis.

But despite this financial handicap, they still serve a large swath of the general public without resorting to the lower forms of salesmanship. People will pay a premium for honesty. If the new car business wasn’t in a legal stranglehold, chances are a lot of the fixed costs in buying a new car would go away.  Or at least consolidate to a competitive superstore / online order / specialty store world where consumers simply pick their best fit.

All of these sales channels are as common as kudzu these days for anything but new cars. Thankfully there are other alternatives; although their presence is usually fleeting.

For example, when many of us head out to the larger auto shows, we get the same unique chance to look at and test drive a lot of brand new cars.  The opportunity to walk around in one place and test drive what’s out there motivates millions of people to spend their money on a show that features things that you can usually go see for free. Just not under the same roof.

If you headed out to the more rural areas of the USA not too long ago, county and state fairs used to offer folks the same opportunity to go out and test drive a variety of new sheet metal. Maybe they still do, but I haven’t seen it here in Georgia for quite a while.

Finally, there are the rental car agencies, car sharing programs, and PR events that allow everyday folks to test drive what’s out there outside the new car dealership.

Except sometimes the new car is simply not what you want, and when it comes to rental cars in particular,  the vehicle may be too used to be new.

This brings me to the big question. If there was a place where you could test drive a new car, any new car, every new car, would you go? I’m sure you would so let me throw a knuckleball into that equation. Would you be willing to pay $20 for the opportunity to drive whatever you want for an entire day? Let’s keep it short drives. Fewer than 10 miles. But as many cars as you wish without being four-squared and stuck in a miserable cubicle for hours on end.

Think of it as an auto show that never ends. Would it be worth $20 to figure out which car will be your next car?

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Question Of The Day: Did You Ever Get Screwed On A Rebate? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/question-of-the-day-did-you-ever-get-screwed-on-a-rebate/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/question-of-the-day-did-you-ever-get-screwed-on-a-rebate/#comments Fri, 09 May 2014 11:00:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=818402 2007 was a nutty time for my car business when it came to buying parts and supplies. All the auto parts stores around my dealership were busy blowing their financial brains out in the pursuit of commercial business. I was retailing all the good cars I could find at the auctions, and it wasn’t long […]

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rebate

2007 was a nutty time for my car business when it came to buying parts and supplies.

All the auto parts stores around my dealership were busy blowing their financial brains out in the pursuit of commercial business. I was retailing all the good cars I could find at the auctions, and it wasn’t long before I started to see an armada of amazing deals come to my door.

12 free gallons of coolant (8 store brand concentrates, 4 Dex-Cool) at Autozone. 16 quarts of free synthetic motor oil plus 24 more quarts of conventional oil at O’Reillys. Advance Auto Parts would guarantee the lowest price. Then O’Reillys offered “cost plus” deals that I could barely even fathom. While the parts stores were busy slashing each other’s throats, I was steadfastly collecting all the cheap and free products that came from the marketshare bloodbath.

Armor All, Meguiars, Turtle Wax, auto care products that were trying to get a retail presence… all were practically free for the taking if you were willing to keep up with the offers. 2007 netted me enough auto care products to handle the next three years of my business.

This ended in early 2008, and by 2009, you could often get better deals by lurking at the Bob Is The Oil Guy web site. That’s when I started noticing a nasty trend. Things started to get a bit too cute with the rebates.

I would apply for a deal, scan a copy for my own records, mail it in, and wait.

Nothing. One month would pass. 45 days. Then two months.

It got to the point where I had a spreadsheet on Google Docs exclusively dedicated to all the rebates that I saw as bait. At least 20% of which were financially AWOL on any given time.

I would call, email, and even complain if their word and my mailbox weren’t aligning themselves the right way. Eventually I got what I needed, but boy, did I get ticked off at that constant tug-o-war of time.

These days I only stock up on certain products off-season (i.e. Freon in November) and pretty much stick to the Bob Is The Oil Guy site for whatever else is worth my time. I retail less, wholesale more, and it’s rare that I see something that is truly compelling these days.

One deal today did catch my eye. This one.  The only problem is I can’t endorse it wholeheartedly because maybe, perhaps, that rebate may find itself in that netherworld called, “lost in process”.

Every rebate that isn’t online is a roll of the dice these days. So with the odds in flux, let me ask you a painful question. “Did You Ever Get Screwed On A Rebate?”

This is your time to sound off on what I consider to be an industry practice that should be taken out back and burned to cinders. Mail-in rebates are an inexcusable screwing of the general public.

If you were ever one of those screwed, here’s your chance to vent.

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Question Of The Day : How Much Would You Charge To Teach The Basics? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/question-of-the-day-how-much-would-you-charge-to-teach-the-basics/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/question-of-the-day-how-much-would-you-charge-to-teach-the-basics/#comments Wed, 07 May 2014 18:10:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=817386 I grew up not knowing the difference between a V6 and a V8. Cars were a mystery to me. Motor oil could have been the same thing as cooking oil right up until my 16th birthday. Then I caught the bug. We all get it. A nasty incurable fever known as, “First-car-itis”. I wanted a […]

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celica

I grew up not knowing the difference between a V6 and a V8.

Cars were a mystery to me. Motor oil could have been the same thing as cooking oil right up until my 16th birthday.

Then I caught the bug. We all get it. A nasty incurable fever known as, “First-car-itis”.

I wanted a car in the worst possible way. I knew that if I just grabbed my hands on every magazine, book and repair manual I could find, that first car would become mine for a long, long time.

I didn’t expect a steep learning curve.

The public library in Englewood, New Jersey offered a nice selection of Chilton’s manuals that probably had all of one reader. Those manuals were thick, hard with just a few exceptions, and practically unintelligible at first.

This access to a repair manual made all the difference in the beginning.  I started by opening the hood to a 1987 Toyota Celica which wasn’t even mine, and figuring out where the hood prop was located. That took a little bit of time. Then I had to figure out the little things. The oil cap. The coolant reservoir. After endless page turning, I finally figured out where the brake and power steering fluids were, and accidentally also discovered one of the a/c Freon outlets.

Hot? Cold? Heck, for all I knew that little nozzle could have been a hidden charger for the air struts that lifted the trunklid.

My beginnings were more humble than the 1962 New York Mets. I knew nothing, learned a little however I could, and eventually became proficient at… the basics. It wasn’t until college that I learned how to change out brakes, and that took two other people to do most of the coaching. I brought the pizza and beer.

Cars are intimidating machines, and today’s sealed containers, plastic skid plates, and engine covers aren’t doing the curious novice any favors.

So my question to all of you is, “How much would you charge to teach a newbie how to perform the basics of auto maintenance?”

Let’s keep it simple. Oil change. Coolant replacement. Changing a flat tire. Replacing fluids from the top. Topping off the A/C. Replacing the battery. Checking fluids and tire pressure. Basic inspection of the brake pads.

Remember that they will more than likely need to learn how to use a jack and jack stands as well, and some may even be able to handle a tranny fluid change with either an excavator or a simple wrench if there is a simple bolt to remove it (pray to the old Volvo gods for easy access!). You may also want to throw in basic wrenching techniques into the mix.

Could all this be taught in one spring day?  If so, how much would you charge if you were teaching this type of course? Throw in some free pizza and cold beer for yourself as well.

 

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Question Of The Day : What If You Could Resurrect A Dying Or Dead Brand? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/question-of-the-day-what-if-you-could-resurrect-a-dying-or-dead-brand/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/question-of-the-day-what-if-you-could-resurrect-a-dying-or-dead-brand/#comments Tue, 06 May 2014 16:21:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=816065 I made my first small fortune in this business selling old Volvos. I started way back in the mid-2000‘s when I got downright militant about outbidding anyone on an older rear-wheel drive Volvo. In one year, 2007 to be exact, I managed to buy at least one Volvo every year from 1983 all the way […]

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oldvolvo

I made my first small fortune in this business selling old Volvos.

I started way back in the mid-2000‘s when I got downright militant about outbidding anyone on an older rear-wheel drive Volvo. In one year, 2007 to be exact, I managed to buy at least one Volvo every year from 1983 all the way to 2004.

I loved the Volvo brand as their rear wheel drive cars represented the perfect mix of comfort, safety and functionality. The discontinued 240, 740 and 940 were insanely easy to sell and cheap to buy; especially the wagons.

These Volvos usually had a history of conservative owners who took their cars to the dealership or Volvo specialized shops for service. Repairs were easy and reasonable thanks to long model runs and parts that were as common as kudzu at any Georgia junkyard.

The used car side of the Volvo brand represented a big fat target where young families, hipsters, Camry-oriented shoppers, and the still common Brick enthusiast could all find a Volvo worth keeping. I followed that tune of demand and soon became a daily reader at Brickboard, Swedespeed, and several other well known sites for Volvo aficionados. I was hooked.

Then I became unhooked.

The seeds of Volvo’s destruction started out as an opportunity for me. Owners began to trade in Volvo S70’s and V70’s from 99′ upwards due to a malfunctioning electronic throttle module. At the sales I would see these vehicles being sold AS/IS, buy them ridiculously cheap, and then take them to the Volvo dealer to get their software upgrade. Eventually Volvo did the right thing by extending the coverage to 10 years and 200,000 miles. However, as Volvos began to develop other issues such as lifetime fluids that weren’t so, and parts failures that were as cheaply made as they were expensive to fix at the dealerships, the marketability of these vehicles nosedived to the point of near irrelevance.

The Volvo S40 was a world-class blunder. The Volvo S60 and S80 were left to rot on the vine of Ford’s neglect along with the V70 and C70. The Volvo XC90 may have represented the brand’s only solid hit for the entire decade as the MBA marketeers at the Premier Automotive Group decided to make Volvo into a downright ridiculous alternative to BMW.

Volvo wasn’t alone in the quixotic pursuit for a more ‘upscale’ brand identity. Oldsmobile was positioned as an import fighter. Mercury tried to become a premium brand as well, and marketed heavily towards women, while Lincoln redefined American luxury in a way that no one outside of Dearborn could quite understand.

The list of failed brands stretches long since the Y2K era. Plymouth. Isuzu. Saturn. Hummer. As proof of their deadness in the retail marketplace, most independent dealerships that specialize in financing won’t even buy these brands… along with Volvo, Mercury and Lincoln.

You can’t sell a dead brand, unless you were maybe a successful overseas manufacturer trying to crack the American market. Or maybe the CEO of Ford or GM. Let’s assume that the perfect world exists. A place where you could choose your brand and launch your products without worrying about money. Consider yourself old GM, a newbie at Tesla, whatever you like.

What brand would you choose to resurrect?

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QOTD: At What Price Connectivity? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/qotd-at-what-price-connectivity/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/qotd-at-what-price-connectivity/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 15:36:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=797689 From this week’s Automotive News, editor Jason Stein talks to former Hyundai CEO and now TrueCar board member John Krafcik about connected cars “Do you notice that as we talk about increased connectivity in the car, we are also talking about being less connected with the car?” Krafcik asks through a phone line. “Connectivity and autonomy. Sounds like those are […]

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Caterham_7_Roadsport_SV

From this week’s Automotive News, editor Jason Stein talks to former Hyundai CEO and now TrueCar board member John Krafcik about connected cars

“Do you notice that as we talk about increased connectivity in the car, we are also talking about being less connected with the car?” Krafcik asks through a phone line. “Connectivity and autonomy. Sounds like those are at odds with each other, hey?”

Krafcik, who owns a Caterham and a Porsche 911, is one executive who can speak with authority on the inverse relationship between in-car connectivity and feeling a connection with one’s automobile. Unfortunately, we seem to be moving inexorably towards the “connected car” model, at the expense of feeling connected to our cars – and most people don’t seem to mind one bit.

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If The Big Lebowski Were Filmed Today, What Car Would The Dude Drive? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/if-the-big-lebowski-were-filmed-today-what-car-would-the-dude-drive/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/if-the-big-lebowski-were-filmed-today-what-car-would-the-dude-drive/#comments Mon, 17 Mar 2014 13:00:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=773897 Before the Clint Eastwood film (but after the cheezoid TV show), the most well-known Ford Gran Torino in cinema history was the beater ’73 sedan driven by Jeff Bridges’ character in The Big Lebowski. This film, which took quite a while to go from box-office dud to sacred document of the Lebowski Jihad, was released […]

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Big_Lebowski_Torino_Crash-550pxBefore the Clint Eastwood film (but after the cheezoid TV show), the most well-known Ford Gran Torino in cinema history was the beater ’73 sedan driven by Jeff Bridges’ character in The Big Lebowski. This film, which took quite a while to go from box-office dud to sacred document of the Lebowski Jihad, was released in 1998 and was set in late 1990 or early 1991 (a period during which I was also in Southern California and living a fairly Dude-ish lifestyle myself). The choice of a ’73 Gran Torino by the Coen Brothers makes some interesting statements for those who obsess about movie cars, and Monday is always the best day to discuss such things.
Big_Lebowski_Torino_Impound-550pxLooking at 1990/1991 from the perspective of 1998, you’ve got a nasty recession being observed via dot-com boom-tinted glasses, the first one-sided ass-kicking dished out by the US military since Vietnam from the point of view of an ascendant hyperpower, and so forth. At the same time, the latter years of the 1990s saw cars that could knock of 200,000 miles becoming commonplace, with carburetors and mechanical ignition systems dead as global Marxism-Leninism. With all that in mind, The Dude’s car had to be something from the Malaise Era, for symbolic location along the Malaise-Gulf War-Hyperpower continuum as well as for the fact that unemployable Los Angeles loadies could be expected to drive 18-year-old midsize sedans.
Big_Lebowski_Torino_Brochure-550pxSo the question here is: What would be this car’s equivalent today? If you’re just going by straight model years, a 2014 movie set in 2006 with the protagonist driving an 18-year-old midsize Ford sedan would give us a 1988 Taurus… and it’s easy to picture the 2006 Dude clanking along in a hooptified first-gen Taurus.
10 - 1986 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' GredenHowever, the runup in global commodities prices in the second half of the first decade of the century meant that larger cars were worth a fair amount at the scrapper, which means that even the ugliest Taurus floated a bit above the very bottom of the car-value barrel. That’s why I think that The Dude of 2006 would drive an early Hyundai Excel. What do you think?

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