The Truth About Cars » WSJ The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 16 Jul 2014 16:33:07 +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 » WSJ WSJ: Volvo “Might As Well Back Out Of” The United States Tue, 09 Oct 2012 14:38:43 +0000

Volvo’s target is the lower end of the Lexus, BMW, Audi and Mercedes lines… Most experts consider the cars made by these companies engineering marvels. And Volvo, a Swedish marque with Chinese ownership, is another manufacturer that does not have the model line, marketing budget or dealer network to hope to compete.

Doesn’t sound like a vote of confidence, does it?

It’s rare for the Wall Street Journal to argue that a company should just give up. Not a very capitalist mindset, really. In a rather Death-Watch-esque article posted this past Friday, however, the voice of the one percent called for some timely market seppuku from underperforming competitors in the North American auto market.

In addition to the no-confidence vote given to Volvo above, the Journal called out Mitsusbishi and Suzuki (“It is a wonder that their parent corporations continue to grapple for market share they can never win. If they had a chance to do well, it was when there was a tidal wave of Japanese imports three decades ago. Now it is much too late”) as players who should cash in their remaining chips before they are forced to quit. Although the paper readily acknowledges the fact that sales are improving for some manufacturers here, “…that growth does not lift all ships.”

Here at TTAC, we’d be sad to see the lively Kizashi, the still-desirable Lancer Evolution, or the surprisingly usable Grand Vitara disappear from dealerships just to satisfy someone else’s notion of fiscal responsibility. As for Volvo… well, as the photo above hints, we will be following Alex Dykes’ review of the 2013 S60 with a final, Corvette-chasing goodbye to the “naughty” 2012 S60 T5 later on this week.

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Wall Street Journal Misses Its Mark With The Dart Wed, 19 Sep 2012 16:15:33 +0000

It’s the kind of mistake that only a blogger (said with a contemptuous sneer) would make. The Wall Street Journal reports that

“U.S. regulators rated a new Chrysler Group LLC compact car with highway fuel-economy of 41 miles a gallon, a move that fulfills a key element of the company’s 2009 federal bailout and cleared the way earlier this year for majority owner Fiat SpA to increase its stake in the Detroit auto maker.”

They got it wrong.

To hear the WSJ tell it, you’d be led to believe that

“Italy’s Fiat took control of Chrysler in 2009 after agreeing with the U.S. government to help the U.S. auto maker produce a line of new fuel-efficient on cars based on Fiat designs. Fiat was originally given a 20% stake in Chrysler, and was allowed to increase its holding for achieving certain goals, one of which was helping Chrysler produce a car that goes at least 40 miles on a gallon of gasoline.”

The WSJ isn’t technically wrong – one of the stipulations was for Fiat to help Chrysler produce a 40 mpg car. But it had nothing to do with 40 mpg highway, the Dodge Dart Aero, or even the current fuel economy regulations as we know them.

As our Editor Emeritus Ed Niedermeyer reported back in 2011, the requirement, as stipulated by the U.S. government, was for Fiat to produce a made-in-America car that got a combined 40 mpg unadjusted. This means, crucially, that the combined figure is calculated using the pre-2008 fuel economy calculation standard that led to inflated fuel economy ratings. How much of a difference does this really make? Ed laid it all out unsparingly

“40 MPG combined unadjusted translates to almost exactly 30 MPG combined on the “adjusted” EPA test cycle which is used to produce window stickers for vehicles currently on the market. This is hardly a benchmark for a meaningful “Ecological Commitment” in the sense that a significant number of currently-available mass-market cars currently achieve this standard, and the cleanest vehicles on the market exceed it by dramatic amounts. According to the EPA, at least 11 2010 model-year “compact cars” currently achieve the 30 MPG combined adjusted standard. At least six “midsize sedans” achieved the magic number for the outgoing model-year, as did two “upscale sedans,” two convertibles, two station wagons and three SUVs (although the SUVs are all derivatives of the Ford Escape Hybrid).”

The WSJ uses the 2013 Dodge Dart Aero as its example, but the Dart Aero isn’t the sole model to get the 40 MPG unadjusted combined figure – the base 1.4L 6-speed manual car returns 32 mpg combined, while the automatic 1.4L returns 31 mpg combined, which would place them above the 40 mpg unadjusted cutoff value. The Aero models get 32 mpg combined with either transmission. Meanwhile, Darts with the 2.0L 4-cylinder get 29 mpg combined with the manual (just missing the mark) and 27 mpg with the automatic.

While Ed already explored the inside story of how a few word choices effectively torpedoed any chance for meaningful advancement in fuel efficiency, (while giving Marchionne & Co a free slice of Fiat), the “40 MPG meme” is still alive and well. For all the darts that the WSJ has thrown at the Obama administration, one would think that they’d be the last entity to let the Dems dodge their well-aimed crosshairs on this issue.


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Beltway Horror: The WSJ In The Grips Of Range Anxiety Sat, 31 Jul 2010 09:12:06 +0000

This could be the week that separates the electric hype from the electric truth.  Real EVs get in the hands of real drivers for real reviews. Our Dan Wallach drove the Tesla Roadster. Our very own Ed Niedermeyer wrote his “GM’s electric lemon” review of the Chevy Volt for the New York Times. (He didn’t really drive the thing, but the article really drove some to drink, up the wall, nuts – their choice, it’s a free country.)  And Joseph B. White of the Wall Street Journal laid his hands on a real Mitsubishi i-MiEV, for a real life test drive under the grueling conditions found within the Washington Beltway.

Japan’s Nikkei [sub] thought that article so remarkable, that they immediately put it on their wire. That article will be making the rounds.

White being a good journalist, the headline says it all: “Trying To Unplug And Drive.”

Trying. In case some readers don’t grasp the fine irony of someone who dates himself as part of the Windows 95 generation, the subhead lays it on a bit thicker: “Getting the Feel for an Electric Car May Include a Flicker of ‘Range Anxiety’.” Now we’re walking.

Of course there must be the requisite remarks that the i-MiEV is „powered by lithium-ion batteries, which in turn are recharged by the electric grid. The electric grid, of course, relies on a variety of fossil fuels, mainly coal and natural gas.“

Having said that, our intrepid reporter braves the environs of shopping mall city inside of the Washington Beltway. He was warned that “in Japanese city driving, Mitsubishi says the car can travel 80 to 100 miles on one charge. But a Mitsubishi spokesman in the U.S. says on higher-speed American roads, the cars tend to get 40 to 75 miles per charge.” How far will he get when visiting the historic Tyson’s Corner Mall?

First, a problem presented itself: “The MiEV I drove was a Japanese model, which meant the steering wheel was on the right. The gauges – including the display that told me how many miles I had left before the battery charge ran out – presented data in kilometers (a useful way to dust off those multiplication skills).” There wasn’t much to multiply.

The temperature outside was zooming toward the high 90s, so I turned on the MiEV’s air conditioning. The car cooled off quickly, but the range meter took an alarming dive. I was barely out of the driveway, and I had lost six or more miles in range.

Mr. White quickly found another baffling item:

The one thing that is unusual is the effect of the system that harvests braking energy to recharge the batteries – regenerative braking. The car could just coast freely when you eased off the throttle. But that would waste the energy it took to propel you to speed. So the MiEV uses the drive system as a power generator when the car is braking or decelerating. The MiEV takes an aggressive approach to this. Lift your foot off the power pedal and the car slows down abruptly. Even going down a steep hill, it’s not possible to just coast without annoying motorists behind you.

Fair and balanced, White notes one good aspect: “The MiEV is a more practical vehicle than the electric car that’s been getting a lot of buzz lately, the Tesla roadster. The Mitsubishi is designed for maximum space efficiency and flexibility, as are many other Japanese city cars such as the Honda Fit. I was able to get two adult bicycles in the back of the MiEV thanks to the fold-flat rear seats and the high roof line.” The room for the bicycles is there for a reason.

After “making two round trips from D.C. to Arlington, Va.” (for those not familiar with the area: you cross a bridge and you are done) “the combination of driving and maximum air conditioning use had put it somewhere in the mid-20-kilometers range.” Time for a recharge. White finds a “standard wall plug near the driveway at our apartment.” No high voltage pod.

The next morning, “the MiEV wasn’t dead, but it hadn’t recharged either. The plug I tapped into didn’t work.” Mr. White better call an electrician. Or have his wife check the fuse box and the GFI. Or just don’t trust any old wall-plug in the driveway. For whatever reason,  the i-MiEV greeted the morning uncharged.

Undeterred, White and wife “set out anyway for a bike trail in Rock Creek Park, about 3 miles away.” A harrowing scene, right out of the Exorcist, a movie that had been shot in the neighborhood. (Actually, that ivy-covered house was that of my former in-laws. I should have heeded the warning.) White also should have been more careful:

But once again, it became apparent that I was burning off range faster than I was covering ground. The round trip was well less than 20 kilometers. But on our way back, the dash display began flashing a big E at me, accompanied by an icon showing a plug.

This was my first real-world experience with “range anxiety,” the term automakers have coined for the discomfort that strikes early electric vehicle owners who misjudge how far they can drive between charge-ups and fear getting stranded. We made it home without incident – also without air conditioning. I can attest that range anxiety is quite real, especially if you are the kind of person who can’t remember to recharge personal digital appliances far less mission-critical than a car. My oil-free weekend was over. We jumped in the gasoline-fueled Saturn and drove 150 miles round trip on a quest to find a perfect wedding gift. Why? Because we could.

Back in a generous mood, White thinks it might all be his own fault: “I may just not be ready to live the life electric.” Especially not with a dead wall socket in the driveway.

Maybe Mr. White isn’t Windows 95 generation after all. XP or Vista maybe. A veteran of the Windows 95 times wouldn’t have wasted the chance to subtitle the article “Plug and pray.”

(While I’m at it, I need to get something off my chest. Mitsubishi better find a new name before selling the car in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, certain parts of Pennsylvania, Argentina and Uruguay. “Mief” translates to “stink” in German – and you know about our predicament with f, v, and w. That  iMiEV could be mistaken as “I smell.” Or worse.)

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Confirmed: WSJ Writes Nonsense About Toyota EDR Amnesia. Jalopnik In Same League As WSJ Fri, 16 Jul 2010 11:11:07 +0000

Welcome to amateur hour. As reported yesterday, The Wall Street Journal claimed in a story that Toyota’s “data recorders can lose their information if disconnected from the car’s battery or if the battery dies—as could happen after a crash.” Their source was “a person familiar with the situation.” Commentator Carquestions concluded that the source doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. After we wrote about it, Carquestions fingered the not so knowledgeable source as “a secretary within Media Relations at the DOT.”

Instead of talking to a secretary, the WSJ could have done what we did: Call Toyota headquarters in Tokyo. It took TMC spokesman Paul Nolasco less than 10 minutes to round up an engineer, and to confirm to TTAC that Toyota’s “EDRs use non-volatile memory.” For the non-nerds: Non-volatile memory doesn’t lose the information when the battery dies. Remove the battery from your cell phone. Put it back in. Your phonebook, your messages and pictures of questionable nature will still be there. Non-volatile memory in action.

As Carquestions also correctly points out, the U.S. code for EDRs (to come into effect in 2012) specifies that “data recorded in non-volatile memory is retained after loss of power and can be retrieved with EDR data extraction tools and methods.”

Now nobody forces Toyota to comply with a code that isn’t in effect yet. To extinguish any lingering doubt, Nolasco said: “Our EDRs are designed to retain their memory even after they are disconnected from an electric power source.”

Why did the WSJ rely on “people familiar with the findings”, and not on the people familiar with the Event Data Recorder? Why are anonymous sources used if people who can lose their job if they talk nonsense are ready to answer a simple question? Why did the WSJ even print a story that was old hat as readers of the Financial Times know?

You think the story ends here? No, it doesn’t.

Yesterday, another story was floated: The British site Just-auto reported that the Wall Street Journal story was “planted by Toyota.” Just-auto even found a source for that assertion, an unnamed “NHTSA spokeswoman in Washington” that supposedly said: “That story was planted by Toyota. Toyota is the source – yes we know that for definite.” Jalopnik ran a similar story, claimed they “spoke with a NHTSA employee (who wished to remain nameless)” and said that they “received a somewhat similar response.” Why does it smell like Jalopnik called absolutely nobody, and simply cribbed the Just-auto rumor? And why does it appear as if Just-auto talked to the same ditzy secretary that had never heard of non-volatile memory?

The big story (driver error) wasn’t planted by Toyota. It had been told by Daniel Smith and Richard Boyd of NHTSA weeks ago, and was just warmed-over by WSJ. And why should Toyota plant a story of  EDRs with Alzheimer’s, and then go on record today and say the opposite? Just-auto claimed that “Toyota in Tokyo could not be reached for comment.” Well, if you forget that Tokyo is 8 hours ahead of Bromsgrove, Worcs., no wonder nobody will pick up the phone. Friendly tip to Just-auto: When it’s noon in Bromsgrove, it’s 8 in the evening in Toyko, and even the worst workaholics are on their way home or in a Ginza bar.

This turns into a C-movie, a really bad one.  Secretaries usually don’t comment about Data Recorders. A government agency usually doesn’t accuse a company of planting a story. Wall Street Journal reporters usually call the other side for confirmation. People usually look at their watch when calling other continents. Someone is desperately trying to keep a story alive that had been dead at the get-go. May we ask that this is done with a bit more finesse?

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