Archive for March, 2012
I hope you’ve read boss man Tom Appel’s blog about Nissan’s plan to resurrect the Datsun brand for vehicles to be built and sold only in such places as China and India. As Tom notes, Datsun is still very well known and well regarded globally, and I agree that it’s a shame to sully the name by slapping it on Third World cheap wheels. Sorry—make that products designed to sell for what emerging-market consumers can afford.
But aside from the arguably unfortunate choice of name, Nissan undoubtedly got the budget-brand idea from alliance partner Renault of France. Several years ago, Renault took note of fast-rising auto sales in post-Soviet Eastern Europe and created a basic low-cost car for the region, the Dacia Logan compact sedan. I’m not sure if that brand is pronounced DAH-shia, DAY-see-ya, or some other way, but I’ve read that Logan was chosen to suggest “log on.” How modern.
With a lengthy commute to the CG headquarters every day—31.4 miles each way—I do my fair share of driving, to say the least. Avoiding peak rush-hour times has become my number one hobby, and I have become quite well known by several different gas station attendants near the office and near my home in the ’burbs. I’m such a showoff, I know.
But as I continue to drive 314 miles to and from work per week—setting aside any additional miles for miscellaneous things like errand running—the odometer on my 1999 Chrysler 300M grows closer and closer to 200,000 miles (!).
Stories about cars that are capable of reaching 200,000 miles are scattered throughout the news. This is considered a positive thing, but I am more ambivalent. Am I grateful that my car has lasted this long? Yes, definitely. Do I think it’s only a matter of time before I get stranded on the highway? Absolutely.
That’s what several gas stations I passed on my way to work this morning were demanding for a gallon of regular. Last week it was $4.35. Last month it was $3.75. Last December it was $3.41.
Normally this would make me cringe. But not today. Because today, I’m driving our new extended-use Mitsubishi i.
Now, you might think my indifference is due to the fact that the Mitsubishi gets great gas mileage, but you’d be wrong. Because this Mitsubishi doesn’t use any gas at all.
You see, the Mitsubishi i is an all-electric car. Like the Nissan Leaf that preceded it in the marketplace, it runs strictly on an electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery pack. Since it runs on electricity rather than gas, it’s difficult to give a “miles per gallon” equivalent for the i. Easier is a “cost per mile” comparison.
In a stunning about-face, Fox News now seemingly loves the Chevrolet Volt.
A victim of partisan politics since its introduction, Volt became a symbol of everything commentators on the popular conservative news channel found troubling about President Barack Obama and especially the auto-industry bailout.
Quite suddenly, everything has changed.
In an interview on Fox & Friends earlier this week, Lee Spieckerman, a self-described political conservative and the CEO of Spieckerman Media, lamented the “bad rap” the Volt has been getting on Fox. In his words, he was “setting the record straight.”
In the process of debunking a number of popularly believed Volt misconceptions—most significantly, the belief that the current president forced
General Motors to build the car—Spieckerman described the Volt as “a wonderful vehicle” and “an anti-terrorist weapon.”
In the five-minute interview, host Steve Doocy fully supported Spieckerman’s commentary. Doocy added that he had recently test drove the Volt and found it to be a “cool car” that was as “smooth as glass.” The Fox graphics department put up a chart proclaiming how much less oil the U.S. would have to import if 30 million Americans drove Volts.
I would describe my political affiliation as slightly left of center, but I get aggravated with people on the far left—particularly those whom I call PEECHES (Progressive, Educated, Eco-Conscious, Holier-than-thou Elitists). So when my wife asked me to pick up her vitamins at the Whole Foods in Evanston, Illinois—one of the most liberal cities in America—I knew I was in for a blood-boiling episode.
Driving through rules-rife Evanston (or Heavenston, as the locals call it) is infuriating enough. “Do this, don’t do that” signs are everywhere. Parking “within 8 feet of driveway” when there’s “more than 2 inches of snow” on a “street-cleaning day” “after 6 p.m.” without an “Evanston parking sticker” would probably land you in jail. Once, while my car was stuck on an unplowed Evanston street during a snowstorm, I looked up to see a nature-loving, middle-aged woman in all her glory, cross-country skiing down the sidewalk in an Eddie Bauer outfit and a blissful smile on her face, her arms goin’ up and down, up and down.
In my seven-plus years as an auto critic, I’ve driven my fair share of Subarus. I have been behind the wheel of the Impreza, WRX, Legacy, Outback, Forester, and Tribeca—in different trim levels with different features—in the city, on the highway, and even on the racetrack. To be completely honest, I’ve never been a big fan. None of the vehicles were ever “bad,” but they never really lit my fire—not even the ultra-high-performance Impreza WRX STi. Until now.
A little background is in order. As you may know, Subaru redesigned the Impreza for the 2012 model year. Along with the expected styling updates, the company made a number of drivetrain modifications, allowing some models to earn the distinction of being the most efficient cars with standard all-wheel drive. EPA-estimated fuel economy for the 2012 Impreza ranges from 25 to 27 mpg in the city and a whopping 33 to 36 mpg on the highway. My old 2000 Saturn SL2 would garner only a 22 city/32 highway rating today.
Driving is hazardous enough without the car making it even more so. Yet thanks to a combination of “feature creep,” misplaced design priorities, and overzealous engineering, driving distracted is now more likely than ever, even if you never use a hand-held gadget on the move.
By “feature creep,” I mean the proliferation of comfort, convenience, and mechanical innovations that’s been going on since Daimler and Benz built the world’s first cars back in the 1880s. A modern example is blind-spot warning, which strikes me as silly. Granted, styling trends have gradually conspired to constrict outward vision in all sorts of vehicles, but what’s wrong with checking your mirrors and looking over your shoulders once in a while?
Or consider the various lane-departure-warning and lane-keeping-assist systems that have popped up in recent years. The former is designed to signal when you’ve wandered outside the white lines, the latter to nudge you back within them. But are these really necessary? If you can’t maintain a straight path because of something going on with you and/or in the vehicle, why not pull off the road and deal with the issue? If you’re tired, quit driving or at least take a nap. If the kids are brawling or the dog won’t keep still, stop and get them under control.
I’m not some anti-government whiner. I pay my taxes, am glad that my water’s clean, and really appreciate the fact that someone plows my street when the snows come. Additionally, I am pretty darn happy about most of the safety equipment on my car.
Airbags and antilock brakes are, inarguably, among the best things Uncle Sam has foisted on the driving public. If you’ve tried to brake on a slick surface or survived an impact involving airbag deployment, you’ll likely agree.
On the list of more dubious mandates are things like bumper standards. Since vehicles are already crash tested to determine human survivability, bumper standards really only serve to reduce the cost to car owners of minor impacts. While I appreciate the effort, I wince a little knowing that the government is making my car cost more now so that it might cost me less later.
But now the federal government wants to be sure that I am using my mirrors—or more correctly, don’t need to use them. Proposed legislation now being shaped by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would mandate that by 2014, every vehicle sold in the U.S. is equipped with a backup safety camera.
Honda has announced that it will open a new plant in Mexico, where it will build Fits and other vehicles. The company projects that the new facilities in Celaya, Guanajuato, will have an annual capacity of 200,000 units. The plant will begin operation in 2014 with production of the company’s popular subcompact model.
“Considering the needs of the Mexican market, which is expecting continued growth in the future, and also serving as a global production base for the North American region and beyond, we decided to make the Fit the first product to be produced here,” said Honda CEO Takanobu Ito.
Currently, the Fit is built in Japan. But with the yen’s rising foreign exchange rate against the dollar and euro, Honda is producing more and more vehicles outside the country. In January, Honda announced that it would build the Acura NSX sports car at a new plant in Central Ohio.
In an interview with Automotive News, Honda executive Rick Schostek stated that in the coming years, more than 90 percent of Honda and Acura models sold in the U.S. will be built in North America.