Seven Days: Vermont Car Blog

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.

February 26, 2009

iPhone Changing The Way We Think About Cars

Dwn_ichange_iphone_2 Apple’s iPhone has countless helpful and productive applications available that can make its users lives easier or at the very least more interesting. With these applications the iPhone rolls many functions once performed by individual devices into one central device. Perhaps in the not to distant future we can add one more function to the list of things that the iPhone has replaced - car keys. Introducing the iChange, an iPhone controlled concept car by Swiss auto design house Rinspeed that will be introduced this week at the Geneva Motor Show. The iChange will use an iPhone to lock, unlock, and start the vehicle. The iPhone connects to a holder on the dashboard and a green start button appears on the screen of the phone. Pushing the button starts the car. Once in motion drivers can control applications such as turn signals and headlights with the iPhone. The iChange does not stop there however; the car has an adaptive body that optimizes aerodynamics and fuel efficiency. In its standard design, the vehicle can seat one, but with the push of a button the rear roof opens and transforms into extra seating for two.

Dwn_ichange_side_2 The iChange uses two lithium ion batteries with different configurations for short and long distance driving. It can adapt its power output according to passenger weight. The car also has a built in navigation system that will figure out the most fuel-efficient route to your destination. The iChange is still a concept car and there is no set date for its release, but it will be interesting to see what role if any this new technology plays in the designs of next-generation vehicles.

February 25, 2009

Quarter Mile Quintin’s

Pete and Tim Quintin are brothers who share a passion for drag racing. The inspiration and camaraderie they find at the race track is also in evidence at their family-owned business, Quintin Brothers Auto & Performance in Williston. I caught up with the two of them last week to talk shop.

Quintin1 BOB KILPATRICK: How long have you guys been working together?
TIM QUINTIN: We’ve been running this business for 10 years. Long before that our dad owned a gas station, when we were kids on North Avenue. He owned that through the ’80s. We all worked there, my mom, everybody.
PETE QUINTIN: We still have the original sign out in the shop.
TQ: Then we went to the dealerships. We both worked at Chrysler-Plymouth and Goss Dodge. We did that for years.

BK: What led you to open Quintin Brothers?

TQ: We drag race. That’s what we do on the weekend. So we always worked on performance cars. We got tired of working on the same stuff everyday and decided we wanted to do something different.
PQ: It ended up we were busier at home than we were at work.

BK: Have you seen positive or negative effects due to  the economic downturn? How is it affecting your business?
PQ: Our regular customers are fixing their daily drivers. The cars they were going to junk or get rid of, they’re putting some money into them and just keeping them. We do have some guys who are taking their money out of stocks, their 401(k), and instead of losing it they’re putting it into classic cars.
TQ: We do everything from regular service, like oil changes and brake jobs, to full restoration. Right now we’re doing a ’70 Challenger and it has all matching numbers [original parts]. We look in the registry to see what’s out there, and that’s one of only 20 registered that’s left. The first thing you do when you find one of these [collectible cars] is register it. It just makes it worth that much more money.

BK: The performance technology in your shop is very diversified. What do you guys do that no one else does?

TQ: We have a chassis-dyno, that’s our big thing. We were the first shop in Vermont to have one. A chassis-dyno is basically a bed with 7000-pound rollers that imitates the street. You get the car up there and strap it down. It’s computerized and tells you horsepower, torque, speed, air-fuel [mixture]. You let the car run and tune it from there. We custom burn our own computer chips. We did it for years by mail and it’s hard, because you get a car up on the dyno and you want to tune it then. If the chip’s not right, you’ve got to wait for the mail to come. We said, we’re just going to do it ourselves. It works much better.

Quintin2 BK: Seeing you guys working together with the younger guys in the shop, and hearing the banter, I’m reminded of [reality TV show] “Orange County Choppers.”
PQ: It could almost be the same thing some days.
TQ: We’ve had more than one customer who has said, “You guys should start a TV show.”
PQ: If you taped them out there, you’d have to censor quite a bit of it, but you’d laugh like hell. My son, Chris, he likes the business, and when he does a job he likes everything perfect. Mike is the guy that marks every bolt he tightens. He double-checks everything. If you give him a job, you are guaranteed that everything is tight.
Brady is our floater. He’s supposed to be here in the office, but he hates to sit here. He’s really smart on the computer, but he wants to get his hands dirty. He used to work at Napa auto parts. They came in here to show us a new program, and I know nothing about computers. As a joke I said, I’m just going to hire him. We all laughed, but a week later we did hire him. He started here, and he was twice as smart as we thought he was. We’ve got programs nobody else has. We can put a supercharger on a Mustang and he’s got the program to start it right up.

BK: How has your relationship evolved over the years?
TQ: We haven’t killed each other yet.
PQ: Our dad sometimes still says, “Do I have to separate you two?” With me and Tim, it’s like we’re married. If we have a problem, we scream at each other and I go off here and he goes out there and we don’t talk to each other for part of the day. And then we’re done and everything’s good again.
TQ: It’s pretty much a family thing we’ve got going on. It works out pretty good.

February 23, 2009

Like Social Media? Drive A Brand New Ford For Free

Ford_2009_Fiesta_USA Ford  has announced that they will be holding a contest in an effort to help promote the Ford Fiesta set to hit American dealerships early next year. The Fiesta is a fuel efficient compact vehicle that has seen successful sales in Europe, and beginning in April of this year, Ford will be putting the Fiesta in the hands of 100 people for long-term test drives. The specially selected contestants will receive their own international model of the Fiesta  for six months with gas and insurance paid for by Ford. The drivers will be asked to complete assignments provided by Ford Mission Control, and then relate their experiences on social networking utilities like Facebook and Flickr. Ford is looking for web savvy consumers with a strong internet presence to help them tap into a younger audience. The initial task for all would be Fiesta test drivers is to create a 2-5 minute YouTube video telling Ford why they deserve to participate in the Fiesta Movement. All applications must be completed by March 13, 2009. For more information visit 

February 22, 2009

BMW Says Have One On Us

BMW_logo In an attempt to boost sales, BMW is offering to pay the first two payments of select new car purchases through BMW financial services over the next two months. The vehicles that qualify for this special offer include the 1 Series, 3 Series, 5 Series, 6 Series, and X5 models. The two payments will not exceed $750 a month, $1,500 in total, and buyers will also have the option of combining the subsidized payments with APR financing ranging as low as 0.9%. This offer ends on March 2nd for 2008 models and March 31st for 2009 models so get to your local BMW dealership quickly. 

February 19, 2009

Off-Road Entrepreneur

4x4_center The 4x4 Center in South Burlington repairs all manner of 4x4s and SUVs and specializes in the restoration of British Land Rovers. It also operates a unique training program where civilian and military drivers can hone their off-road driving skills. I met with owner Mike Hopwood recently to find out what keeps them motoring along.

BOB KILPATRICK: You guys have a wide portfolio of offerings here. Let’s start with the backbone of the operation, your service business. 
MIKE HOPWOOD: Basically, the ratio of our business is 25 percent restoration and 75 percent regular service and repairs. We fix everything. We install transmissions and motors. We do oil changes and brake jobs, the whole nine yards. If it’s on an SUV, we fix it. We have factory-trained techs and the right equipment to do it.

BK: What advice would you give to SUV owners to keep their vehicles in good working condition over the long haul?

MH: Stick with the scheduled service maintenance. Do not ignore check-engine lights. A lot of people are under the misconception that, “Oh, the light is just on again.” Well, it means something and it needs to get checked out. Go to a quality shop, even for your oil change. Because an oil change is an opportunity for a shop to have a quick look over and say, “Yep, you’re good.” If you bring your truck or SUV to a quick lube, all they’re going to do is drop the oil, slam some more oil in it and ship you out the door. That’s a missed opportunity to have the whole vehicle quickly looked at. A small problem will turn in to a big problem and cost you twice as much if it’s left.

BK: Why the focus on Land Rover?

MH: Well, we don’t just do Land Rovers. We fix all kinds of trucks, crossovers and SUVs. We specialize in Land Rovers because that’s what I grew up with. I was originally born in England and I grew up in Worcestershire. There they are as common as Chevys are over here. So that’s what I’ve loved since I was a little kid. As far as using them for our driving school, there are really just a few vehicles that could do the job. Land Rover is one of the few that will take that abuse on a daily basis.

BK: To an American who has less familiarity, what makes a Land Rover special?

MH: I think it’s a combination of durability and ability. It’s a special vehicle. They drive like nothing else. When you’re driving one, no other vehicle in the SUV world compares. When you physically get behind the wheel of a Land Rover, it makes you feel pretty special. It makes you feel secure and it does a lot of the hard work for you.

BK: Tell me about the different driver-training programs you have.
MH: By far the majority of our work is for the military. We also do corporate entertainment. Groups looking for an outdoor experience that involves vehicles. We train private individuals for whatever reason; maybe they’re going on safari to Africa. Maybe they’re just looking for a unique experience. We do a lot of work for Michelin Tires. We train people from all over the country in all aspects of their light-truck range. Michelin Tires owns B.F. Goodrich and Uniroyal. We teach their sales people how these tires perform off-road, on-road and how the various features balance the tires’ abilities.

BK: With the military training do you get into security and tactical driving?
MH: We typically do not address higher-speed driving. We’re not ramming and we’re not sliding vehicles around. What we’re doing is teaching them all aspects of recovery and traction. So no matter where they are in the world, they understand what it takes to get the ultimate traction to get where they need to go. On recovery, if one sedan goes off the road and all you’ve got is another sedan, how do you use one to the best advantage to recover the other? You don’t have a big heavy truck with a winch, so how are you going to do it?

BK: Do you have a local training facility?
MH: We do a lot of training at the Bolton Ski Area. It’s great terrain and it’s really close to the airport. We take over the Timberline Lodge for the duration of the summer. As soon as it’s done being a ski lodge, it becomes an off-road classroom. We have offices and a conference room, all of the facilities that we need. This summer we are scheduled to do 70 days of training.

BK: Tell me about the art of vehicle restoration.
MH: Restoration is a really tricky thing to do because no two jobs are ever the same. Customers’ expectations are always extremely high. It’s very difficult to keep budgets in check. Over the years we’ve become better and better at meeting and exceeding customers expectations by managing the projects properly. We have awesome techs who know what they’re doing, and we also have a huge library and history of past projects that we can draw on and try to pinpoint costs and potential problems before they occur.

BK: Why should vehicle owners consider the 4x4 Center versus another shop?

MH: We’re interested in quality. I’m not going to pretend that you can’t find a place to get the job done cheaper somewhere else, but what leaves here is going to be top-quality work.

February 17, 2009

Students At MIT Shocking The Auto Industry

Genshock Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a new shock absorber that could revolutionize the way people power their cars. Introducing the GenShock, a shock absorber that creates a smoother ride and captures energy through the oscillation of a cars suspension system. The shock absorbers work by forcing hydraulic fluid through a turbine that is hooked up to a generator. The creators of the regenerative shock absorbers claim that their product can improve fuel efficiency by as much as 10%, and that a heavy duty truck sporting six GenShocks can produce and capture enough energy to completely replace the alternator. The initial target market for the GenShock will be commercial trucks and military vehicles with hopes to develop the technology further for passenger cars later on. 

February 16, 2009

Women's Car Care Clinic

Amy_mattinat Amy Mattinat from Auto Craftsmen in Montpelier is hosting a FREE Women's Car Care Clinic this Saturday Feb. 21st.
Her goal is to help educate women about maintenance and repairs on their vehicles so they can make informed decisions to keep their cars safe and reliable.

They will be covering the following topics:

  • How to check your oil
  • All about tires (learn how to check your tire pressure, check the remaining tread on the tire, and find the correct tire size for your car)
  • What to do if your check engine light comes on
  • How brakes work
  • What manufacture recommended maintenance is really necessary
  • How to buy a great used car, and lots more!

There is limited space so please register early by calling 802-229-2054 or email Amy at [email protected]

February 13, 2009

Ford Announces Electrifying News

Ford Motor Co. announced this week at the Chicago Motor show that they will be producing the first all electric battery powered car to hit the North American market. The Ford Transit Connect is designed to cater to the commercial platform  and will be available at Ford dealerships beginning in 2010. The Van is modeled after the European version that was introduced back in 2003.


With an estimated 100 miles per charge, and 135 feet of cubic storage space, the Transit Connect aims to provide small business owners with an environmentally friendly alternative to move their products across local markets. The Transit Connect is the first implementation of a larger plan by Ford to bring battery powered vehicles to the North American market. These include a small electric car by 2011 and next generation hybrids and plug in versions of Ford vehicles by 2012.


February 12, 2009

Four-Wheel Freedom

Burlington’s Good News Garage has generated plenty of press. The nonprofit that provides recycled cars to low-income families has been featured everywhere from NPR to “The Today Show.” Has the current economic crisis slowed the pace of donations? I met with Director Michael Muzzy at the office-garage on North Winooski Avenue to find out how things are going.

Autofinder-021109 BOB KILPATRICK: How long has Good News Garage been around?

MICHAEL MUZZY: Since 1996. Hal Colston had the original idea and worked with Jon Van Zandt in donated space down at the bus garage. I think the year after that they moved to King Street. We were there until about ’02, when we moved here to North Winooski Ave.

BK: How long have you been with the organization?
MM: Since 1998. Prior to working here I had been an ASE-certified mechanic for 18 years working at dealerships. I basically burned out on the for-profit automotive world. It’s competitive and sales driven. The older I got, the less it fit my needs.

BK: The for-profit world wasn’t working for you. What about the nonprofit world does?
MM: It has less to do with automobiles than with my heart. This is in alignment with how I want to spend my time and energy. Being helpful versus generating income. What I get to do here is utilize my automotive background in a way that directly, tangibly, helps the people that we work with.

BK: What does it mean for a Vermont family not to have a car?
MM: Without a car, especially in rural Vermont, your employment options are limited to where you can walk. Medical appointments, day care, taking the kids to see their grandparents — these logistical problems are multiplied immensely without access to your own transportation. We say, “Donate a car, change a life.” Once that car is part of the equation, employment options are expanded.
It’s a Catch-22: “I don’t have enough money to buy a car or fix the one rusting in my yard, but I can’t get to a job to get the money.” Hal [Colston] used to say, “Nobody wakes up and chooses to be poor.” It’s really true. A lot of young single moms are clients. Particularly when you’re working with them day-to-day, you get to really know the person. These women are some of the hardest-working people that I’ve ever met. They just plain do what it takes for their family — to get their family to a place where the kids have their basic needs met, can have fun, and can see their relatives.

BK: What is the biggest challenge currently for Good News Garage?
MM: We are getting more referrals. There have always been more people needing transportation than we have vehicles available for. We have people calling us on a daily basis with pretty dire circumstances. Certainly the challenges are driven by the economic situation. People are hanging on to their cars longer. The volume of repairs that are needed when [donated cars] come in the door is higher. So our repair costs are climbing.
What’s amazing is that the volume of donations has remained steady or even grown. We are looking for cash donations to offset the rising repair costs, and certainly need to keep the donated cars coming in. The cars that don’t make the cut for program cars we sell at auction. Cars that aren’t appropriate for a low-income family, like big SUVs or luxury cars, we sell outright. All that money comes back to fund the program. We are a 501c3, obviously, and self-sufficient. We’re owned by Lutheran Social Services, but in terms of the bottom line, we live and die based on our own resources and operation.

BK: Your clients often have issues they need to work out to get themselves back on their feet. Do you offer financial counseling or similar services to help them with that process?
MM: Our Ready To Go program provides rides to low-income Vermonters and is specifically centered around helping people transition from state assistance to independence. We provide rides for individuals that are going to an employment-training program, have an employment offer, or need to get to an existing job. That’s what the ride service is all about: providing that bridge so they can get going, start addressing their issues, and eventually move off the ride service into their own transportation. We coordinate with public transportation so we aren’t duplicating what’s already available in the community.
You asked about financial counseling — we do work with Opportunities Credit Union. As a nonprofit credit union, that’s their mission: working with Vermonters to improve their standard of living. It’s all about developing credit, developing an asset base, and developing financial literacy skills. The agencies we work with — usually the Agency of Human Services Reach Up program — their case managers are working with the families to provide that piece. And Hal Colston’s NeighborKeepers program — we work with them, and they’re all about life-skills literacy. How do you get along in the employment world, coming from the low-income culture and moving into the employment culture? It’s all about skills development. And the piece that we provide is the hardware, the transportation hardware.

BK: Last spring you started getting the word out that you would accept just about any vehicle, regardless of condition. Are you going to continue operating with those parameters?
MM: I can’t tell you how many times I talked to someone, and they said, “I would have given you my car, but it was 11 years old.” There’s a pervasive belief that a car has to be 10 years old or newer. That is not true. We depend on a wide variety of donations to operate the program. Any donation has possibility here.

If you’d like to learn more about Good News Garage — or, even better, make a donation — call 1-877-Give-Auto or visit

February 08, 2009

Oil Going Green?

G-Oil Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way we could get motor oil from a cleaner renewable source that didn’t require the use of petroleum? In Stamford, Connecticut one company was thinking exactly that. Since last May, Green Earth Technologies has been selling G-Oil, an oil made from beef fat for small two and four cycle engines. G-Oil utilizes slaughter house by-products paired with nanotechnology to create a completely petroleum free motor oil. G-Oil is available in all of the standard weights, and can be purchased in over 2000 retail locations nation wide as well as online. G-Oil is already being used in auto racing and is expected to be certified for use in cars and trucks from the American Petroleum Institute later this year. According to Green Earth Technologies, one cow can yield as much as 110 quarts of motor oil!

A Little Assurance Goes A Long Way For Hyundai

Amidst a a struggling market, one auto maker has found a way to get ahead. Hyundai and its subsidy Kia both reported encouraging U.S. sales numbers for the month of January. This is great news for Burlington Cars Hyundai and Berlin City Kia in Williston. Hyundai Motor America reportedly sold 24,512 vehicles last month representing a 14% rise in sales from January of 2008.  Kia Motor America sold 22,096 the second best January ever for Kia. How are they doing it? In late December of last year, Hyundai introduced an assurance program with the purchase of new cars. The program allows consumers to return their vehicle and get out of their contract if they have lost their job since purchasing a new Hyundai or Kia. With an unstable job market Hyundai’s assurance program has put potential customer’’s mind’s at ease when weighing the risk versus rewards of purchasing a new car.Hyundai-kia-logo.thumbnail

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow... Not!

Burlington had another parking ban last week. After slipping and sliding around in the snow for 45 minutes trying to find a place to park, I finally settled on a parking garage downtown which usually offers free parking during the bans. I've had some close calls and some good luck over the years, and I try to remember one simple rule when I have to drive in the snow; TAKE IT SLOW. In light of these winter weather driving conditions, here is a video to remind everyone what can happen if you try to be a hero. Drive safely every one!

February 04, 2009

Service With A Smile

Reputations have a way of getting around. Wayne Racine, the longtime service manager at Goss Dodge in South Burlington, has a reputation for treating his customers like friends, or even family. One of his customers, who felt that Racine had treated her as well as he would his own daughter, encouraged me meet the man myself. So I did. (And yes, Wayne is related to the other Racines in the local auto community)

Wayne_racine BOB KILPATRICK: How long have you been at Goss Dodge?
WAYNE RACINE: Well, I started when I was 16 years old. I hate to tell you how old I am — I’m 59. I was in high school and we had our used car lot on North Avenue in Burlington. You know where the orphanage is over there? Well, there’s a gas station over there, too. There’s a new one now, but the old gas station used to be our used car lot. When I came on I was cleaning cars, shampooing rugs and spray painting engines. One of my jobs was to transport all the cars. I got to drive all the muscle cars — the original Challenger, the Daytona/Superbird. That was a good job for a 16-year-old kid. When we weren’t reconditioning cars, we’d pump gas. Basically it was a filling station. Back then Gulftane gas was 28.9 cents a gallon!

BK: And it was called Goss Dodge?
WR: It was called C.H. Goss Company. Henry Goss owned it. I think we’ve been in business since 1908. My father worked here for 50 years. He worked as a service manager for 25 on North Avenue. We moved over here and he was in sales for 25 more. He’s like me; he spent his whole life here. It’s the only job he ever had. I took a four-month leave of absence and went to training with the Air Guard. So my legitimate time starts in 1973. They gave me a plaque during the Christmas party for 35 years [of service]. But actually, I’ve been here longer. Doug Hoar came here in ’68. I came here in ’67. We were both driving Dodge Swingers. He had a red one and I had a blue one. We used to do these rallies in parking lots. You know, where a grocery store would be closed on a Sunday? We’d do time trials through the cones. Those were the good old days. Back then there was a service manager here. He went on vacation for two weeks, and they wanted to know if I’d fill in for him. I’d never talked to customers. So I said, “Sure, I’ll fill in for him,” and he never came back. A lot of people, they just don’t show up. So that was it.

BK: What do you drive now?

WR: I have an ’08 Dodge Avenger R/T. It’s inferno red with a big V-6, a six-speed automatic and big 18-inch wheels. It’s the first four-door I’ve ever owned, but it’s muscular. It’s got the flared-out wheel wells and everything. It’s a nice-looking car. I always like to get new technology, the first-year cars. Have you seen the new Challengers upstairs? They’re beautiful cars. Like I said, I drove the originals, so it really brings back memories.

BK: In the past 35 years, what changes have you seen in the automotive business?
WR: Technology — it changes so quickly. If you got out of this business and three years later you came back and tried picking up where you left off, you wouldn’t have a clue. I think last year our training expenses were $30,000. I sometimes use the old term “mechanic,” but these guys are really technicians. You’ve got to be smart. The old image back in the ’60s and ’70s of a “grease monkey” — that just doesn’t apply anymore. Every guy has to do 40 to 45 hours of training every year just to keep up. If we didn’t do this, Goss would lose its Five-Star Certification. There’s no ifs, ands or buts — in this company it’s not an option not to do it.

BK: What changes have you seen in Chittenden County in the last 35 years?

WR: Burlington is clearly different than Middlebury or St. Albans. We have guild meetings for all the service managers [in Vermont]. We all get together and compare notes, and what’s changed is the customers in Burlington are all wham-bam, “I need it done” . . . It’s “me, myself and I.” You talk to people down in Middlebury — it’s only 32 miles away but it’s a completely different mindset. People are laid back. Here, it’s almost like you’re in Boston. People have become very, very hard to please over the years. You get your bad days where you say, “Why did I even come to work?” Other days — especially if you get tourists who are broken down and can’t get home — it’s pretty satisfying to know that you’ve helped somebody.
I’ve got a lot of letters — they’ve got some of them framed up in the hallway, and I’ve got so many letters saved at home. It’s self-satisfying, especially when [customers] write and say they were made to feel really comfortable here. Most of my customers I know on a first-name basis, and that’s the way I try to treat them. I try to treat everybody as if they’re a really good friend of mine . . . even if they’re obnoxious. People tell us all the time, “I could have bought a different car up the street, but I come back here because I feel comfortable.”

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