« February 2009 | Main | April 2009 »

March 2009

Seven Days: Vermont Car Blog

March 31, 2009

A Quarter Century Later, Fuel Economy Standards Going Up

Fuel-gage-250 For the first time in 25 years, America has announced an increase in fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks.

Fleet-wide industry averages will have to achieve 27.3 MPG, a 2 MPG increase from the previous fuel efficiency standards. Cars will have to average 30.2 MPG, and trucks must earn an average 24.1 MPG under the new rules.

According to the US Department of Transportation, the new regulations for the 2011 models will save approximately 887 million gallons of fuel, and cut carbon emissions by 8.3 million metric tons. In 2007, Congress called on automakers to achieve a 35 MPG average for cars and light trucks by 2020. This is just a starting point.

March 26, 2009

Nissan Looking To Colleges For New Marketing Ideas

Nissan_cube Nissan's new Cube will be available at dealerships on May 5. To promote the Cube, Nissan is teaming up with marketing students at 10 large universities to create advertisements that come straight from their target audience. The campuses include University of Georgia, Texas A&M, John Hopkins University, University of Pittsburgh, and San Diego State.

The automaker is hoping that the ad campaigns created by the marketing students will generate a buzz among the 18-24 year old demographic for the Cube, which is economically priced; it starts at $14,000. Nissan is encouraging the young marketers to include local dealerships into their advertisements, but other than that, full creative control has been given to the students. No word on whether they're being graded.

March 24, 2009

Vermont Has Fastest Growing Auto Debt In US

Cutcreditcards-main_Full According to a study by TransUnion.com, Vermont has the fastest growing auto debt in America. Vermont experienced an increase of 2.2 percent in average auto debt in the fourth quarter of 2008. The debt increase was by far the highest, with South Dakota coming in second at 1.5 percent.

The report also highlights an upward movement in the overall national 60-day auto delinquency rate, or the ratio of auto loan borrowers that are 60 days late or more on their payments. The delinquency rate jumped 8.86 percent in the fourth quarter of last year as the credit crisis continues to affect more and more consumers and industries.

The report is based on 27 million anonymous credit files. It's an attempt to help gauge the credit health of US consumers. 

March 18, 2009

End of the Road?

In December, GM and Chrysler each took loans from the federal government to keep their companies out of bankruptcy. Will history show the money was well spent, or will it be as many feared — “good money after bad?” We’ll soon find out.

In exchange for the loans, and in order to receive any additional aid, these companies were required to develop and submit plans outlining their future potential. Viability plans submitted in February are now facing in-depth scrutiny. So, are the plans good enough? And who gets to decide?

Instead of appointing a single “Car Czar” as many had anticipated, President Obama appointed a 20-member Auto Industry Task Force. The Washington Post reports that one of the key members is Steven Rattner, an auto-industry outsider who has “built a long, lucrative career on his chameleon-like talent to adapt to the situation at hand, to understand complex problems quickly and to display keen, level-headed judgment.” In recent weeks, Rattner and others have been traveling the country, grilling auto executives, labor representatives and supply chain manufacturers. Their job is to decide by March 31 if and how the automakers can survive, and what the ramifications would be if they did not.

Republican leaders favor allowing automakers to file bankruptcy, arguing that would allow a quicker turn around of remaining assets. Senator John McCain said on Fox News last Sunday, “The best thing that could probably happen to General Motors, in my view, is they go into Chapter 11.” But the bankruptcy of a major American automaker would cascade throughout the auto industry, likely leading to many additional bankruptcies. The decision certainly won’t be an easy one.

What of the auto-parts suppliers in this mess? With their fates linked to those of the powerful manufacturers, suppliers are in equally dire straits. Approximately 700,000 Americans work at 5000 businesses, making all the parts that become an automobile. The auto industry is incredibly interwoven, and the suppliers are organized in tiers: A third-tier company supplies raw materials to a second-tier company, which refines them and hands them off to a first-tier that manufactures the finished part.
Suppliers that provide parts to GM are also likely to provide parts to other manufacturers such as Ford or Toyota. If one company fails, the effect can cascade up and down the food chain. Market Watch reported that when Toyota’s John Lentz got his chance to speak with the Task Force, he said, “The biggest challenge we face is really on the supplier side.” He told them as many as 100 companies that provide auto parts to Toyota in the United States are struggling to survive. It is a veritable house of cards.

One of the key factors that has crippled the U.S. auto industry is the cost of labor, especially in comparison to its foreign counterparts. Though American manufacturers have been trying to reduce costs for years, strong labor unions have resisted giving up hard-won pay and benefits. But at this point the unions have a choice: to make a deal or lose everything. Concessions are beginning to appear.
Ford is in slightly better shape than are Chrysler and GM, though it also needs to make dramatic changes in its business model to become profitable. As reported in the New York Times, Ford recently announced an agreement with the United Auto Workers (UAW) that will allow the company to reduce employees’ average hourly rate, including benefits, from more than $60 to $55 an hour. This will save Ford more than $500 million a year, and moves wages closer to the rate — about $49 per hour — that Toyota and Honda have been paying in their U.S. plants.

What else are manufacturers doing to save their companies? GM is eliminating 47,000 jobs, cutting executive pay and discontinuing or selling off brands such as Saturn, Saab and Hummer. Chrysler is cutting 35,000 jobs and eliminating slow-moving models, and has sold $1 billion in assets — including land in the U.S. and an engine plant in Brazil, according to Chrysler Vice Chairman and President Tom Lasorda.

Is there any good news? Recently Fiat has offered to take a 35 percent share in Chrysler. Fiat would get access to U.S.-based manufacturing and markets, while Chrysler would benefit from Fiat’s experience building smaller and more fuel-efficient cars. Some say Chrysler has to make this deal because it has cut so many positions that it no longer has the critical engineering staff to make next-generation vehicles. Fiat announced this week that it had perfected a new engine technology called Multiair, which uses a hydraulic system to vary valve action. The result is a carbon-emissions reduction of 10 to 20 percent and a 60 percent reduction of other pollutants, while delivering a 10 percent increase in performance. That’s the kind of technology Chrysler needs.

While Chrysler’s hope lies in partnering with an outside entity, GM’s is with an internal project — ironically, an electric car. The documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? detailed GM’s launch, and then infamous discontinuation, of the first widely used electric vehicle, the GM EV1. That car was created because California mandated it; it was subsequently killed by pressure from oil companies and the Bush administration. Now GM is hoping to stake its future on a new electric vehicle, the Chevy Volt, which will be available in 2010. Members of the Auto Industry Task Force took demo models out for a spin during their visit to Detroit.

The future of millions of jobs and a mammoth industry rests with this hand-picked group. The clock is ticking while they make decisions about reshaping, revitalizing or recycling big players such as GM and Chrysler. I, for one, hope they’re approaching a crossroads and not a dead end.

March 14, 2009

Dodge Offers Employee Pricing, Free Hemi

2009 Dodge Ram Sport Chrysler has announced that this March will be Dodge truck month, and the automaker will be offering its award winning 5.7 liter hemi engine in the Dodge Ram 1500 at no additional cost. The free hemi offer can be taken advantage of along with Chrysler’s employee pricing program that offers cash discounts of up to $3,500 for 2009 models and as much as $6,000 on 2008 vehicles. The Jeep Wrangler, Dodge Ram, and Dodge Challenger among others are included in the employee pricing program. Additionally, Chrysler Financial services is offering zero percent financing for as many as the first four years of leases for qualified buyers.

March 12, 2009

An Ounce Of Prevention

It’s no secret that the economy is in tatters and consumers aren’t buying very many new cars. Instead, they’re hanging on to their older rides and putting many more miles on them. This shift in use requires a shift in care. If you rely on an automobile for transportation, then you absolutely need to take care of it to ensure it stays in excellent running order. As Benjamin Franklin said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Last week I paid a visit to two well-respected local auto shops — Advantage Automotive and the Twisted Wrench — and spoke with Denver Webb and Eric Provost, respectively, to get some tips.

BOB KILPATRICK: What should people be doing to take care of their cars?
DENVER WEBB: My key suggestion is that if you can see your mechanic every 3000 miles or three months, that is the absolute best way to keep your car in good condition. Developing the right relationship between you, your car and your mechanic can lead to longevity and cost savings. I have a customer’s Jetta out front. She bought it new in ’94. It’s got 277,000 miles on it. She’s changed her oil every three months. She was trying to decide whether to put money into it this year or get a new car. Her total repair bill was $500. Break that down and it comes to about two months of car payments. So that repair is paying for itself in just a few months.

BK: So it’s a numbers game.
DW: I guess it can go either way right now. I have another customer who drives down from Nova Scotia once a month for school. She puts on a ridiculous number of miles. She had a Dodge Neon with 104,000 kilometers on it. The repairs that the car needed were well over $1500. Instead, she was able to trade the car in and got a new Hyundai Elantra for $11,000 that gets almost twice the gas mileage. All things considered, she lowered her monthly costs. For her it made perfect sense to buy a new car.

Twisted_wrench BOB KILPATRICK: Eric, what wisdom could you share with our readers to help them keep their cars on the road?
ERIC PROVOST: It all starts with trying to keep the salt off your car. Wash your vehicle regularly, especially the rear wheel wells. That’s where it really seems to hammer on your car. That’s not about us fixing things. That’s about me not having to tell you that your car is shot. If you look under any car this time of year, it will be just covered with a film of salt that is chewing away at the car. That’s what kills cars in Vermont.
What we also often see, especially with young people, is that they finally come in and their car needs $2000 worth of stuff because they’ve just been waiting and waiting and waiting. That’s not good for your car’s long-term health, and that’s not good for your wallet. Regular maintenance is the key. Part of regular maintenance is getting your car checked out once in a while and working with someone who is trustworthy.

BK: Have you seen any trends in the last year?

EP: We’ve seen three cars this year that were driven way past the oil-change interval and the engine seized. Now [they are] basically valueless. The auto manufacturers are saying, because of the CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations, set by the federal government] standards, what I think are ridiculous things, like waiting 7000 miles between oil changes.

BK: How does that relate to the CAFE standards?
EP: My understanding is they get a better rating on their overall environmental impact that way. Well, oil is oil and metal is metal, and it’s just not good in the long run for the car. Can you do that when the car has 30,000 miles on it? Sure you can. Can you do it when the car has 130,000 miles? It’s probably not a good idea. My opinion is that this actually has a negative effect [on the environment] when a perfectly good car blows up because you didn’t change the oil often enough. Now they’ve got to build another car. You basically just lost thousands of dollars because you didn’t spend $30 or $40 on an oil change.
Other people are, like, “Argh, I’m 10 miles over my oil change! I’ve got to get it done!” That’s way better than neglecting it. When I was a kid, you couldn’t drive 5 miles without seeing somebody broken down on the side of the road. It’s not like that anymore, so I think people just think, you put gas in it, you drive it, and that’s it. And with age comes wisdom, because the younger you are, the more likely you are to ignore your car completely until it’s right in your face. 
Around here, there’s not a lot of public transportation; if you don’t live and work in Burlington, you’re probably not going to take the bus, [so] you’ve got to have your car and your car has got to work. There’s no getting around that.

Advantage Automotive
82 Winter Sport Ln # 150
Williston, VT 05495
(802) 865-3618

Twisted Wrench
60 Ethan Allen Dr
South Burlington, VT 05403
(802) 660-0838

March 09, 2009

BMW Generating A Buzz With Next Generation Technology

BMW With a slumping industry overall, car companies are doing everything they can to gain a competitive advantage. The next decade promises to be one of the most innovative periods ever in terms of new technologies being made available to consumer vehicles. BMW has announced that they are developing a thermoelectric generator utilizing radioactive heat collecting technology. The generator, that was originally intended to power space satellites, is supposed to help reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions by trapping electricity produced from heat coming out of the vehicles exhaust pipe.  Most internal combustion engines loose about 30 percent of their energy through exhaust heat and BMW is predicting a minimum 5 percent increase in fuel efficiency. The thermoelectric generator is expected be used in either hybrids or electric cars to aid in propelling the cars. Look for this new feature at BMW dealerships sometime in the next few years!

March 05, 2009

Design Matters

To the average American, cars are so much more than just a mode of transportation. Cars represent who you are, where you come from and where you’re going. Sure, we’d like to believe that we make wise decisions — based on common sense — when we purchase a vehicle, but there’s no denying that many choices are primarily based on our design preferences.
There are iconic vehicle designs that everyone recognizes, such as the Volkswagen Beetle, the Chevy Corvette and the Ford F-150. Each of these classic styles represents a different aesthetic and speaks to different facets of our character. A sports car can make you feel young again; a pickup brands you as a hard-living rebel — or a hard worker.
Here are a few new vehicles on the market that stand out for their design. You may not have noticed them yet, but each is worth a look.

Volkswagen CC
VW CC If you know cars at all, you have probably noticed that most recent VW models have a signature look. Whether it’s a Jetta, a Passat or a Rabbit, you’ll likely recognize it as a Volkswagen. That’s not so with the new Volkswagen CC. VW has taken the Passat platform and boldly recreated it in a new image. It has a sporty, stylish, aerodynamic shape, and VW backs up those good looks with refined German engineering and attention to detail. Many people mistake the new CC for a Mercedes CL-Class sedan, for good reason: The vehicles share an undeniable design aesthetic. By the way, CC stands for Comfort Coupe, which is an odd label for a four-door vehicle. I guess VW decided to take some artistic license here.
I picked up a CC Sport at Lewis Motors in South Burlington and took it for a drive. The 2-liter, turbo-charged, 4-cylinder engine offered plenty of power while still delivering an impressive 31 mpg on the highway. The interior was tastefully appointed and the stitched leather, heated seats cradled my frame comfortably. Though the rear window appears large from the exterior, when I looked in the rear-view mirror from the driver’s seat I found the view to be quite constricted. One other questionable feature is the back seat. It’s quite comfortable, with seats that are sculpted similarly to those up front, but there’s only room for two passengers. Between the seats is a console with drink holders and storage space, covered by a sliding door. It all looks and feels pretty sexy, but if you’re looking for a five-passenger family car, this isn’t it.

Ford Flex
Ford Flex Speaking of family vehicles, here’s one with ample style. The Ford Flex isn’t your Mom’s minivan, though it seats seven comfortably. It reminded me instantly of the wagon version of the Mini Cooper — the Clubman — though larger. Confirming my suspicion that this car was inspired by the Mini, it even has a similar two-tone paint option — a white roof that contrasts nicely against a darker body color à la the Mini. The interior, not unlike that of the VW CC, is very nicely done. American-made vehicles sometimes fall short when it comes to interior styling, but this is not one of them. Ford deserves kudos for marrying such bold style with family-friendly function. If you’ve got multiple people to haul around but can’t see yourself going the minivan or SUV route, you should check out this auto.
The Ford Flex offers some pretty cool options. The Vista Roof puts four skylights over the three rows of seating, letting in lots of ambient light for all occupants. The window over the far back seats is larger than any sunroof I’ve seen. The model I picked up at Heritage Ford had all-wheel drive, which makes great sense in Vermont. You can even get a working refrigerator! It holds about a six-pack of cans, and can cool down to 23 degrees F.

Dodge Challenger
Dodge Challenger The original Dodge Challenger launched at the height of the muscle-car era in 1970 and was a worthy opponent for the Mustangs and Camaros of the day. With an amazing retro look, the new Challenger is every bit the road warrior that its ancestor was. Of all of the cars featured in this article, the Challenger — which I test-drove at Goss Dodge in South Burlington — speaks to me the loudest. Crank up the classic rock and you’re bound to feel like a bad ass behind the wheel. Aesthetics-wise, Dodge stayed close to the original theme, but the new version does a great job of incorporating up-to-date technology into a car that looks like it was created in the ’70s. This is a well-made vehicle and, for all but the most extreme performance models, Dodge backs it up with a lifetime drivetrain warranty.
Ford actually started the retro craze in 2005 with the fifth-generation Mustang and ended up selling a lot of them. This spring, the company will roll out an updated version of the Mustang. Chevy is finally catching the retro wave and issuing a new Camaro, also this spring. However, with a struggling economy and a focus on energy efficiency, this may be poor timing for the latecomers. Only time will tell how sales will be affected, but these days that’s true for just about everything. All I can say is, if you like muscle cars, the Challenger is a real modern beauty.

March 03, 2009

Engineering Team At Baylor Going Nuts About Car Parts

Coconut The Baylor University engineering department has found a way to turn waste byproducts from coconuts into car parts.  The idea originally stemmed from a desire to help poor coconut farmers in third world countries increase their standards of living.  The basic concept is to take coconut fibers and compression mold them into composites that can be used in bed liners, floorboards, sun visors, and interior door covers.  The coconut based material is still pending certification, however the team at Baylor is confident of its approval as coconut fibers are not very flammable and do not emit any toxic fumes when burned. The coconut materials are cheaper and more environmentally friendly than the petroleum-based fibers that are currently used in most automobiles. The farmers throw the coconut husks away and this could create an entirely new source of income for poor coconut farmers who typically earn about $500 a year. If all goes according to plan, the benefits could be threefold with cheaper production costs for car companies, better financial gains for coconut farmers, and less petroleum being used in the manufacturing process of cars. Companies like Mercedes Benz and Ford have been using soybean based foam seating in the past few years to reduce their petroleum consumption, and the team at Baylor is hoping this trend can continue.  

March 01, 2009

Ken Block Wins, Travis Pastrana Rolls, at 100 Acre Wood Rally

For the fourth year in a row Subaru Rally Team USA driver Ken Block has won the 100 Acre Wood Rally in Salem Missouri. The course is particularly suited to Block's flat-out style. He was quoted on Rally America as saying “I love the flow of the stages of this event,... I love the high speeds.”

NOS Energy’s Andrew Comrie-Picard finished in second place in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX. Rockstar Energy’s Tanner Foust took third in his new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X.

Subaru Rally Team USA team mate Travis Pastrana really wanted to challenge Block for the top spot on the podium saying prior to the race “I’m going to drive like a bat out of hell until I either hit something, or we catch Ken,” Unfortunately for Travis he rolled it on day 1 and was unable to continue. To riff on the Subaru jingle, "that's what makes a Pastrana, a Pastrana"

Subaru Rally Team USA is run by Vermont SportsCar of Colchester, VT. The 100 Acre Wood Rally is round two of the Rally America Championship.

Here's some video of the 2009 100 Acre Wood Rally that I found on YouTube.

Website by Dealer.com