By on October 29, 2018


Ren Cen. GM

General Motors appeared to endorse the Trump administration’s fuel economy rollback, at least to some degree. In a federal filing made public on Monday, the largest U.S. automaker said Obama-era rules that targeted fleetwide fuel efficiency in excess of 50 miles per gallon by 2025 were “not technologically feasible or economically practicable.”

Interesting, considering GM CEO Mary Barra recently called for for the adoption of a national zero-emission vehicle strategy. However, the document also had GM saying it was “troubled” that the current administration appears so keen to abandon federal incentives on electric vehicles after the 2021 model year. 

According to Reuters, America’s largest automaker has been lobbying Congress to lift the existing cap on electric vehicles that are eligible for a $7,500 tax credit, which gradually fizzles out over a 12-month period after an individual automaker sells 200,000 electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles. General Motors also requested that the federal government establish a national building code that would require all new residential construction to support EV charging, and wants the government to increase spending on research and development in battery cell technologies.

If the government is taking requests like these, there’s an automotive writer working for this outlet that would love to get his hands on a brand new Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack for long-term review purposes and a year of free gas. Consider it a stimulus package.

It’s difficult to tell whose side automakers are on, but we can help. They are on their own side. It makes sense for GM to back California’s zero-emission mandate, especially if it intends to build more EVs while looking green in the process. However, most automakers badgered President Trump to roll back fuel mandates during his first week in office and General Motors was no exception.

That position was echoed in its comments filed to the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021-2026 for Passenger Cars and Light Trucks. GM said that since 1980, vehicle fleets have improved its fuel efficiency at an average rate of 1 percent a year. While it did not specify whether that should remain the government-approved target, the Obama-era goals are substantially more aggressive.

[Image: General Motors]

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47 Comments on “GM: Current Fuel Economy Rules ‘Not Technologically Feasible’...”

  • avatar

    Let the market price of fuel determine what consumers want to buy, and subsequently what automakers produce to satisfy those wants. It really is that simple.

    • 0 avatar

      Even with CAFE that’s what essentially happens (within the rules of CAFE). Ford deciding to go “all in” on trucks, SUVs, and CUVs shows that even within the current rules nobody is being forced to build a Fiesta.

      Unfettered no CAFE it would be interesting to see what automakers would build and see who got caught “pants down” during the next price spike and might potentially have to file bankruptcy again.

      • 0 avatar

        Crossovers are the logical way to ensure the automakers don’t get taken by surprise, with its far lower CAFE penalties compared to a car of same foot print with minor fuel economy ding. The automakers currently making mostly small and midsize cars will be the ones caught with their pants down when they realize how much the CAFE2025 penalties will be.

      • 0 avatar

        Really good point @PrincipalDan

      • 0 avatar

        It’s not the government’s job to encourage or create stable product portfolios and strategies for private companies.

        It is also not the government’s job to bail out these private companies.

        Let’s not create more bad policies to cover other bad policies.

    • 0 avatar

      I read in the history books that your proposal was tried in the 60s and the 70s, and it didn’t work out too well for us. Our air and water were as bad as they are in China now, and the OPEC wrecked our economy.

      Any reason why it might be different this time around? The Arabs are nicer? The big auto / oil companies more altruistic and less quarterly-reports-focused?

      • 0 avatar

        @epc – “history books”

        What are those? Oh, I get it… they contain the mistakes we keep repeating.

      • 0 avatar

        “Any reason why it might be different this time around?”


        Fracking – we produce far more oil now than we did in the 70s. OPEC doesn’t have the stranglehold it once had.

        Electric cars and hybrids are far more available now than they were then.

        Technological progress – much of the tech in today’s cars was not the result of government mandate.

        We are at a point of diminishing returns with regards to auto regulations. Making cars safer tends to make them heavier which hurts fuel economy – making different government requirements somewhat at odds with each other.

        How did the government come up with the 50 MPG requirement? Was it just a nice sounding number? Is it possible with readily available technology?

        I think the government has a burden of proof here. If the government can PROVE that these targets are attainable with reasonably implementable and affordable technology – then maybe the government can set those targets.

        • 0 avatar

          “How did the government come up with the 50 MPG requirement? Was it just a nice sounding number? Is it possible with readily available technology?”

          Consider the Chevy Bolt. According to the window sticker, it gets 116mpge. If you put it opposite the Silverado pickup which stickers around 22mpg, selling two Bolts raises one Silverado to that 50mpge. Ergo, sell more BEVs than you do ICEVs. Fleet-wide, if you estimate a 2:1 EV:ICE ratio, you would easily exceed that 50mpg CAFE requirement.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s why free societies and pervasive, publicly funded indoctrination for all, can never go hand in hand…..

        A Hellcat sitting in a garage, doesn’t pollute any more than a Fiesta does. And neither does pollution somehow get worse with varying “footprint.”

        If simply burning gas cleanly pollutes, rational policy is to charge for burning gas. Not for building and selling things that sit in garages burning up nothing more than spec sheet fantasies.

        More realistically, since burning gas cleanly hasn’t polluted meaningfully since the automobile was perfected in the early ’90s, stick a sniffer on tailpipes to see how much each car really does pollute across load and speed ranges per mile. Them charge based on annual mileage. That way, you capture annual decay, and/or tampering with, pollution reducing equipment as well.

        CAFE, and absolutely anything resembling even the idea behind it, is just an insult, intended for no more than lobbyist welfare. Because of the “footprint” nonsense, it straight up encourages higher consumption vehicles.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s over simple. It appears to me with GM taking both sides they remember 2008 very well.

      Let’s go back to the turn of the century. GM had a fat line up of cash cow trucks and SUVs. Then gasoline went to $5 a gallon. Disaster.

      Engineering cycles can’t keep up with the potential swings in the price of the barrel of oil. Doesn’t take much to spike prices, that then slowly go down.

      We see other makers taking this stance – Toyota is a perfect example. High MPG Prius could be sold right next to the planet destroying Land Cruiser and Tundra (ironically named) right next to them. No kidding they did better as everyone bought a Prius, and abandoned their trucks.

      We look at buying patterns today and everyone has already forgotten. If any automaker is playing a dangerous game in the American market right now – it’s Ford.

      • 0 avatar

        “..everyone bought a Prius, and abandoned their trucks…”

        I don’t remember it that way, but isn’t having “a fat line up of cash cow trucks and SUVs…” better than not?

        The problems at GM, Ford and Chrysler were several layers thick, but never mind “$5 a gallon”, a return to 99 Cents a gallon gas/diesels, back then, wouldn’t have changed any of that.

        In the early 2000’s the Big 3 were barely profitable, and likely losing money on most days.

        It’s silly thinking if your commute to work in a Prius is $4 with gas at $4 a gallon, if/when gas drops to $1 a gallon, you’re gonna suddenly switch to a brand new Tahoe or F-250?

        It doesn’t work out the other way either, and too many are dependent on big vehicles, and would most likely have to switch to an older version of the same, if worst came to worst.

        No, even drastic changes in fuel prices only changes what we drive slightly. Even then it’s more about how and where we drive, and how often.

        Imagine Texas turning into a Prius state. Plus the Prius would’ve had to sell up to 4 million units a year to keep up with demand.

        Anyway, things started getting ugly for the Big 3, not from the price of fuel, but the sudden implosion of the housing market, banking, and the following domino effect.

        Except, looking forward, if the Big 3 can cut their expenses/losses/losers considerably, while keeping up their sales of insane and ungodly profitable “cash cows” for the time being, or until the next “crisis” hits, and while not listening to the critics squawk, they could stockpile cash like some banana republic, drug cartel.

        • 0 avatar

          The way it went down around here is in fact many people did run out and buy Prius vehicles. So much so that the Prius was the best selling non-pickup vehicle in Western WA and Toyota advertisements for 0% financing $X,000 rebate on “all vehicles” had a * and at the fine print said excludes Prius.

          However fact is that the F150 and Silverado were still the best selling vehicles in the US.

          • 0 avatar

            Gas price spikes usually means that on the USED CAR MARKET trucks and BOF SUVs become lot poison because the used car buyer has a different budget than the new car buyer.

            As I’ve related many times before after the gas spike following Hurricanes Rita and Katrina (gas got to almost $4 per gallon here in NM) I picked up a V8 F150 (2 years old) for less than 50% of MSRP.

          • 0 avatar

            Stepping up to $100+ fill ups, yeah they were a sharp sting, at just 15 to 18 MPG especially, but it paid off if you pushed through the pain.

            The initial shock of $5 a gallon gas, or $4, depending where you were, did cause many to overreact, but hardly to the point of buying a Prius over the F-150 or Tahoe, you were about to buy, or ditching one for a Prius.

            Except once consumers are able to calm down, think it through, they’ll be glad they didn’t panic, especially if they actually need or really want the capacity/comfort/safety(?) of a fullsize vehicle.

            So at worst case, fuel prices never come down, you adapt, change things around, less Starbucks, etc. But even at l5, 16 MPG, there’s nothing that comes close to what fullsize vehicles can do, or do for you, and the closest things “midsize” won’t get much better fuel economy.

      • 0 avatar

        “Let’s go back to the turn of the century. GM had a fat line up of cash cow trucks and SUVs. Then gasoline went to $5 a gallon. Disaster.”

        Gasoline went to $5/gal in 2008-2009, when GM was already dangling over the precipice of bankruptcy.

        Don’t try to rewrite history. $5/gallon gas didn’t kill GM. They were still selling 2-3 million vehicles a year between 2008-2010. A legacy of 40 years of short-sighted decisions is what put GM on its deathbed. The financial crisis is what pulled the plug.

    • 0 avatar

      Camry is the car I judge all others by in terms of fuel economy. Straight forward and modern with 2.5lt 4 cylinder @ 200HP

      • 0 avatar

        I wasn’t all that impressed with the 2018 Camry XSE four-banger we had as a rental for 24 days in Scottsdale, AZ. Driving on AZ101 and I-17, I-10 and AZ 202 primarily, it guzzled gas like there was no tomorrow and no oil shortage.

        Fortunately, 87-octane gas was super cheap in AZ at $2.559/gal at Circle K stores. And we traveled a ton of miles in that Camry.

        Naw, I’ve had better. Not taking anything away from the Camry, but it is NOT the most fuel-efficient four-door sedan on the market.

  • avatar

    Of course the automakers don’t want EV incentives rolled back, they want to use tax money to reduce the price of the EVs so people will buy them, they don’t make economic sense otherwise.

  • avatar
    No Nickname Required

    The solution is simple folks. Let’s invent a time travel machine, go back to 1903, and dispose of Henry Ford before he can figure out how to make cars cheap enough for us plebians. I mean if only the 1% could afford cars while the rest of us were limited to bikes and various methods of animal travel, we wouldn’t be having this problem.

  • avatar

    It’s entirely possible to engineer 50 mpg vehicles but their astronomical price and dismal performance will make them economic failures.

    • 0 avatar

      I remember a guy with a Civic hatch that could get 50 mpg, dude loved the car and had well over 500k on the clock however it would be considered a death trap and penalty box by today’s standards

      • 0 avatar

        Yes – as I posted above – we are at a point of diminishing returns with auto regulations. Making cars safer (who doesn’t want that?) generally makes them heavier – which is bad for fuel economy.

    • 0 avatar

      50 MPG would be astronomically priced? Really? My work-provided car (16 Prius) resets the mpg indicator on trip start, and keeps a rolling average for the life of the car. My hellish commute into NYC returns over 70 MPG on each leg of my trip. Overall mileage for the life of the car (12,xxx miles to date) is 66 MPG. There is a lot to not like about the car but mileage is not one of them. If a normal body and normal dash (I hate that center dash design) were installed over the Prius platform you would have a modest mid size car that already beats the requirement…by far.

  • avatar

    Where is brandloyalty to tell us that a $2 solar panel on the roof of every car will allow it to run without gasoline for 12 hours every day and easily achieve 150 mpg, and all we need is the government to force everyone to buy one.

  • avatar

    100% of the federal gas tax should go to funding for bio-based fuels and then we wouldn’t even need to have this discussion. A permanently renewable source of energy that is compatible with current technology/internal combustion engines. Fuel economy is just a secondary issue when it comes to vehicular propulsion.

  • avatar

    “Not technologically feasible” – definitely true if the only choice is big or bigger. Unfortunately we are caught in the never ending arms race or dubious capabilities (few will ever need) and “safety” (particularly at the cost of other road users that these will inevitably respond to). The end result is that reasonable choice stands no chance (and eventually is discontinued altogether) and we all end up paying more for vehicles, fuel (no need for events outside of our control), roads (acreage and “heavy” use), accidents (when compared to these caused by smaller but still structurally sound designs) and environmental costs (most couldn’t care less and so should I – no kids so let burn once I’m done here).
    Anyway, with all my pro-green inclination I’d say that CAFE may as well be scrapped. It’s just smoke an mirrors at this point and created – together with some other regulations – market where it makes business sense to manufacture the heaviest possible fleet of vehicles that did not require CDL license. Not exactly in line with its original intentions but inevitable considering all the loopholes it included. Very much like the tax system.

  • avatar

    Why worry about climate? If Miami, New Orleans, Savannah, Charleston, etc. are soon underwater – let ’em do scuba tours, and blame the mainstream ‘meadier’.
    And – picking which industries get subsidies is ONLY acceptable, when they are fossil-fuel based, like Big Oil (or maybe even Coal?, the clean, healthy fuel). Breathe deeply, children.

  • avatar

    “Interesting, considering GM CEO Mary Barra recently called for for the adoption of a national zero-emission vehicle strategy.”

    Not really.

    Since some governments mandate EV development, it’s better for the automakers if more governments join in so that they can amortize their development costs across a broader base of sales.

    At the same time, the automakers are going to haggle over CAFE, which includes negotiating down the requirement, as well as how many MPG credits that they get for the aforementioned EVs.

    It makes perfect business sense from the OEM’s perspective to do both if the OEM presumes that CAFE and the ZEV requirements aren’t going away. And they aren’t going away.

    • 0 avatar

      Nothing stopping anyone from selling EVs and high MPG cars in the all the states. Just because a state isn’t on board with incentives doesn’t mean you can’t sell there.

      Basically, the auto makers want to force customers to these vehicles in order to cut costs.

      • 0 avatar

        They’re essentially being forced into building ZEV vehicles to comply, however said ZEV vehicles are unprofitable. Obviously it’s hard to grow that business if it perpetually loses money. In their view, if the .gov is going to keep rules in place that force the creation of compliance cars, they should subsidize the compliance cars.

  • avatar

    “…rules that targeted fleetwide fuel efficiency in excess of 50 miles per gallon by 2025 were ‘not technologically feasible or economically practicable.\'”

    This statement is only true if you change it to “…rules that targeted fleetwide fuel efficiency in excess of 50 miles per gallon by 2025 were ‘not technologically feasible AND economically practicable.\'”

    We have 50 mpg vehicles, but they don’t sell well. 50 mpg trucks are achievable, but they wouldn’t accelerate like today’s muscle trucks.

  • avatar

    I’m with Raph.

    The reality is, we cannot have it ALL.

    It’s not practical for America to abandon our wretchedly wasteful suburban way of life where most people need a car to get pretty much anywhere.

    People NEED a vehicle. Does it need to have 20 airbags and survive a 35mph crash? Not really.

    We can live with 70s-level of safety standards. We CANNOT all live with all of these cars spewing…

    So, rescind all these costly safety mandates (and besides, air bags can kill). People who want and can afford them can pay.

    Keep the tailpipe emissions standards–because we all breathe the air.

    And put a $0.10 cent a gallon tax on motor fuel….every month for the next 4 years, till gas is $10 a gallon, like it is in parts of Europe and Asia.

    The air will be cleaner, and financially strapped lower middle class America that lives in suburbia will have access to affordable, reliable transportation.

    Which might be more fun to drive, as a bonus (to commuted, I’d take a mid-80s Civic, Prelude, GTI over anything on the market today)

    It won’t happen, of course. We will just continue. Fracking is not a viable long-term solution. Drowning in debt and collectively living beyond our means is not a viable long-term solution.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with some of what you say, with this exception: “We can live with 70s-level of safety standards.”

      Having experienced a couple of permanent injury-inducing accidents in 1970’s cars, I would say: No we can’t.

      Not that we need to bubble-wrap our cars, but I definitely don’t want to go back to the days of collapsing seatbacks, submarining under the dashboard and hoping the damned thing doesn’t catch file in a rear end collision (more cars than just Pintos had this issue).

      Those were dark times, indeed.

      • 0 avatar

        Seriously, what’s wrong with 2000s-era level of safety?
        Or CAFE standards, for that matter?

        • 0 avatar

          what’s wrong with it?

          You tell me:

          • 0 avatar

            How about safety devices that actively kill the driver/passenger after reaching a certain age? Sure, they save lives too, but with these devices being mandatory and governments unwilling to pay for their replacement every 7-10 years, the auto companies OR the airbag manufacturers have to eat the cost of replacing them.

            Why not just deactivate them once the vehicle reaches a certain age UNLESS the owner wants to pay for the replacement?

      • 0 avatar

        The public is sold on infinite safety, with certain advocacy groups pushing the acceptable standard further all the time. I agree there are a lot of FMVSS that are unnecessary, but safety has been drilled into the customer to the point that demand as assured the features will stay. For example, there’s a large subset of buyers who look at the NHTSA “Star” rating and believe that only 5 star rated vehicles will do for their precious cargo. A 4 star rated car is most likely still a very safe vehicle by relative standards, but the goal posts keep moving.

    • 0 avatar

      “We can live with 70s-level of safety standards.”

      YOU can. YOU don’t get to decide that for everyone.

      god, what a self-absorbed statement.

      “Which might be more fun to drive, as a bonus (to commuted, I’d take a mid-80s Civic, Prelude, GTI over anything on the market today)”

      out of the 16 million new light vehicles sold every year, probably 15.75 million of those buyers don’t care about “fun to drive.” So you’d sentence them all to ’70s era deathtraps so you can have a “fun to drive car.”


  • avatar

    We gotta stop pretending that it is still the 1970s. We no longer live in that world of perceived oil scarcity and air pollution from primitive engines. Current gas engines are orders of magnitude cleaner. Oil is no longer perceived to be scarce. The only reason Toyota cranked out Prius cars is because that was the cheapest way to meet the government regulations for clean cars. All this talk of EVs, hybrids, hydrogen, fuel cells, it is all just a way for major companies to lose the least amount of money while making the government happy. There is a major market distortion due to the mindset of still living in the 70s. Global warming is still the biggest swindle. CO2 level was as high as 4000 ppm half a billion years ago, as low as 180 ppm, and now we are bickering about whether we can keep it at 300 or 400 ppm, trivial. Earth survived just fine. Let’s live in the 2010s and 2020s. The problem is not the pollution or oil scarcity. The problem is the horrendous traffic in any place where people want to live. We are born with limited number of waking hours. Make them count. Stop wasting human hours on dead end environmental projects. When we learn to count human hours as a precious, limited commodity, we will be able to make some rational decisions. The problem is that right now, the invisible hand of the market is the only calculation that takes into account human hours. And people hate the market because it is not fashionable.

    • 0 avatar

      Clean air and drinking water is a precious, limited commodity. Every individual of course has a limited amount of hours on this planet but we more than offset that by pumping out offspring. Projects that preserve that water and air are hardly dead end projects. Maybe if the marketplace rewarded those who actually produce something of real value, as opposed to those who get outlandish sums for relatively meaningless jobs then you would see some real progress. I find it pretty sad that a cancer researcher make a pittance compared to a basketball player or a Wall Street banker. Which of those actually move humanity forward?

      • 0 avatar

        Please give example of a society that prevented market from operating and setting prices, and did not devolve into totalitarianism. Sweden and Denmark do not count, they are market economies. No one has a problem with the goal of clean air and drinking water. Who wants to give their child polluted water to drink? The problem is when these lofty goals have no endpoint. What is “clean air” in terms of particulates or gases in ppm? What is “clean water” when laboratory equipment can detect trivial picograms of substances? Hence, sentimental environmentalism has turned into a multi-billion dollar industry with no conceivable endpoint. Why not a rational environmentalism with outcome goals which can be tested against? What is the “acceptable” level of CO2 in the atmosphere? The fact that no one can give a ready answer shows that there is no reason involved, just a sentiment. Environmentalism is a bigger industry than professional basketball, and the tax-payers and consumers are the bottomless ATM machines for its practitioners. When we set arbitrary goals for clean air, clean water, or fuel efficiency, at least give some tangible and accurate benefits and not some scare-mongering worst-case-scenario numbers pulled out of the clouds. The curious thing about sentimental environmentalism is that there is no accountability at all. All these failed predictions of catastrophe from global warming, and where are the apologies and the money back? Why have human beings stand along garbage (“recyclables”) separating plastic from paper, only to have much of them go to some incinerator or landfill? Your detested “market” would have prevented that waste of human time and energy, by recognizing garbage for what it is, not some glorious “recyclables.” Environmentalism without testable end-points is a bad religion, not rational at all.

        • 0 avatar

          @emineid: My answer to you is that community in Michigan… a town that has NO clean water available for drinking and unsafe even for bathing. We’re not talking ‘parts per million’ here, we’re talking about water so dirty, so polluted, so full of lead and other chemicals that it is outright toxic! And their political representatives, town managers and state government have done almost nothing in over a year to correct the issue even AFTER it was made so vocally public.

  • avatar

    I don’t think we have an endless supply of oil.

    In my opinion, we are one mis-step (Iran or Saudi Arabia or something else) from disruption which would demonstrate that oil is not abundant.

    As far as global warming, I personally think both sides exaggerate. The world has been colder and warmer, long before the industrial revolution; at the same time, one cannot say that all the coal and oil burned, all the forests cleared in the last 150 years really ‘haven’t made a difference’.

    As for seventies safety standards, OK, perhaps that is too lax. But air bags and crashworthiness add cost and mass.

    How many people can afford a new car now? People need cars to survive.

    I’m simply advocating making driving more expensive for everyone by raising fuel prices, which will reduce miles driven, and at the same time, cushioning the blow by making cars more fuel-efficient and economical. Less cars driving fewer miles will mean less congestion and less wasted time.

    And wasted time is a fair form of taxation–a CEO or board member stuck in traffic in their Benz loses their grossly overpriced time, just like the Wal-Mart greeter who lost their old factory job. Their time is valued differently, so their lost time is worth different amounts.

    For all the excitement of the internet, wireless, computers, the fact is that today, collectively, the USA and its inhabitants are more dependent on cars than they were in 1973, when our Saudi “friends” turned off the tap, and when our Iranian “friend”, the Shah, quadrupled the price.

    In 1973, Americans, grudgingly perhaps, were coming together as our role in the divisive (and misbegotten) Vietnam war was winding down, and as the more Americans were coming to terms with the wrongs of racial prejudice.

    Today we are going in the opposite direction. When the cheap oil ends, we will have bigger troubles than we did in the mid-70s.

    I like cars a lot–only my finances and lack of real estate limit my ambitions to own more of them, but in my lifetime the sprawl AND growth in size of cars has grown out of control! THe other afternoon I saw a mid-80s Mercedes 300D Turbodiesel–and it looked small next a Chevy Cruze, let alone all crossovers!!

    It’s outta control…. I’m done now :)

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      @tomLU86: Thanks for a well thought out and well written post, that got me thinking. Although I do agree with much of what your wrote, perhaps you are a little too pessimistic.

      1) The Alberta Tar/Oil Sands contain a massive amount of potential petroleum, perhaps enough to offset that from the Middle East.
      2) Having spent many, many hours in seminars regarding the ‘New Urbanism’, and seeing the transformation of major cities, including the Greater Toronto Area, urban sprawl may be a thing of the past. The major North American cities are starting to resemble European cities in density, type of housing and reliance on public transit. It was recently predicted that within my lifespan more than 50% of all North Americans will live within the confines of the top 10 or 12 major urban centres.
      3) In the vast majority of situations we do not need privately owned motor vehicles to survive. Public transit, bicycles, car sharing and taxis/Uber can replace these for most people or in most situations.
      4) The planet’s climate does change. However we also know that human activity can disrupt or exacerbate it. We can ‘seed’ clouds. Poor farming techniques led to ‘dust bowls’. The area around ancient Carthage remained barren after being ‘salted’. Coal fires created the ‘pea soup London fogs’. We no longer have brown haze hanging over our cities during rush hours. Our buildings are no longer covered in soot. Acid rain has largely been eliminated and most urban rivers have been cleaned up and no longer ‘catch fire’.

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