Real Wheels Live

Aug 17, 2012

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown will discuss the auto industry. Plus, he'll give purchase advice to readers.

Goodbye to the Maybach from Mercedes-Benz, a super-luxury automobile aimed at the super-rich, introduced in 2002 before the world found out that there was mostly fraud behind things such as credit-default swaps. MB barely reached 20-percent of the 2,000 annual sales it had planned for the big M.

Congrats to Ford Motor Co., at least from this space. Ford is investing more money, an estimated $135 million, in developing electric car components--proving that our industrial leaders have more imagination and common sense than most of our politicians, looking to the future instead of searching for yet another stupid partisan argument.

Hyundai is selling so many cars in the United States that it is capacity-constrained in this market. Could mean that Hyundai prices will rise. We'll see? Mr. Krafcik, care to comment?

To the electrorate: We are dealing with politicians who are too afraid to invest in the future. Their common excuse is that we have a deficit, that we have to cut everything except taxes and tax breaks for oil compoanies and the wealthy, that there is no guaranteed return on investment in funding new technologies, infrastructure, and education. Nuts! Please tell them that we are not interested in sacrificing the country's technological and educational future. 

When are we going to be allowed to have cars that will do 75 mpg?

When we grow up, which, at the moment, we show no signs of doing. We want 75 mpg, but we also want maximum horsepower and performance...and safety. We want the cheapest gasoline in the developed world, which undercuts investments in new fuel-saving technologies. We want freedom from government, smaller and "no government," but we also want someone to give us 75 mpg. Really? We need to grow up.

Mr. Brown, your column on August 3 was reported to be on the MINI Clubman but the description you gave was for the MINI Countryman. I and others who commented on the article are confused on which model you actually tested because it appears that you or your editors were also confused. This confusion and errors are so unlike your excellent commentaries, that I respectfully request a clarification. We own both a Roadster and Countryman, so I am genuinely interested in what you have to say about the Countryman, but I don't honestly know what car you were reviewing.

My sincere apologies. That kind of confusion won't happen again. The references were to the Clubman. I should have made that clear.

Mr. Brown, yours is an excellent column. Question, the BMW 6 series two door coupe comes with an 8 or 6 cyclinder engine. Have you driven that car with with either powertrain? Is the 6 cyclinder sufficient? Thank you.

The 2012 BMW 6-Series is offered with two different engines, a 3-liter inline Six, about 350 hp in the 640i and a 4,4-liter V-8 in the 650i and iterations. I've driven the 640i and see no real earthly reason for the more powerful 650i. No legal place, except a race track, to drive and enjoy the full potential of the 650i.

Notice you recommend "popular" car to most of the request for purchase advice. What 2012 vehicles are the" least popular"? Which makes & model has the highest inventory numbers due to poor sales?

Nearly all vehicle lines have several trim levels. Go to the base trim level of each line to find the "least popular." Go to the mid trim level to find the "most popular." Go to the highest trim level to find the most loaded, but usually least affordable.

Hi Warren, curious to know if "good design" costs more than "bad design"? Kia famously hired Peter Schreyer away from Audi and as a result, have been producing some very nicely designed cars. If there's not a cost issue at hand, why aren't more car manufacturers doing more to produce better designed cars? Or do some manufacturers just employ better designers?

Design is in the eye of the beholder. What I think is "good design" might be horrific to you. For example, I liked what Chris Bangel (sp) did to BMW. Other people hated it. No one person or company has a corner on design any more than one artist defines all art.

With the cost of premium gas around 30 cents a gallon more than regular unleaded, why would anyone consider purchasing a vehicle requiring premium gas? If it's for performance issues, manufacturers have delivered high performance cars such as the Cadillac ATS running on regular unleaded... What is your take?

Consumer choice. Many of us prefer the power, yet relatively low fuel consumption, of turbocharged and supercharged engines, which tend to be high-compression engines requiring premium fuel. If that is what we want that is what we buy, knowing in advance that we will pay more for fuel. Similarly, we buy different houses, some costing far more than others, ....different clothes.

I need a small SUV with 4wd for outdoor work I do. Was thinking of another Subaru, but would want the turbo, only available on the Forester, only runs with premium gas, only comes with 4 speed automatic. Today I looked online at the Audi Q5 2.0T, which comes with an 8-speed auto, seems to run on regular, gets good mileage. I can just afford it...but I need very reliable transportation. How's the Audi in that department?

You want a small SUV for work? Get a Nissan Xterra or Chevrolet Eqinox, orf Ford Escape.

I currently have a hybrid with a license plate that allows me to use I-66. I am currently in the market for a new car and am considering purchasing another qualifying hybrid. Do you have any idea how long VA will maintain the exemption for qualified hybrids with grandfathered license plates. Thanks for your help and I love reading your column.

Virginia has, or is, in the process of getting rid of that dumb, politically inspired, intelligence bereft rule of allowing single drivers in HOV express lanes simply because they are driving a hybrid vehicle. Makes no sense for current hybrids, most of which save more fuel in congested urban traffic. Makes no sense for relieving congestion on highways, where most hybrid vehicles depend on their gasoline components and where an extra single-occupant vehicle with a hybrid tag defeats the purpose of HOV lanes in the first place. If you want a hybrid, buy a hybrid. But don't waste time or money buying it because you think some benighted jurisdiction is going to allow you to use an HOV lane as a single driver.

Hello Warren, Looking to buy a new car in a year or two, when my 2008 VW GTI will inevitably become a burden mechanically (and electrically). I was thinking of an Acura TSX wagon, but I'm not sure if this model line will survive. Acura seems to be in no-man's land with the ILX and the TSX. They both are similar in size, price, and feature, so I would think they're canabalizing each other. What do you know about the future of Acura's ILX and TSX lineup? I'm looking for an entry-level luxury wagon, and if the new Fusion or Madza 6 come out in wagon form, I'm sold!

Acura is working to give more differentiation to the ILX and TSX. I don't exactly know when, or how, we'll see the proof-in-metal results. But I do know that Acura had better hurry up, especially if it hopes to get affluent consumers looking for a premium small wagon. Take a good look at the new Audi Allroad Quattro. What does Acura have to beat that?

I am thinking of selling our 2010 Honda Element. Not necessarily buying another car, so don't like the idea of working with a dealer. What is the safest way to sell a car? Online ad? eBay Motors? Car Max or other 'we buy cars' place not linked to a brand (as a dealer is)? Signed, careful single mom

Based on personal experience, I vote for Carmax.

Your comment about Hyundai sales makes me wonder if I have any leverage on the lease for my 2011 Sonata. The lease ends September 2011, but do you think that I could talk Hyundai into letting me terminate early without penalty if they're interested in getting their hands on a gently used Sonata?

Short answer: Yes. Recent Sonata sedans are doing an excellent job of holding their value. Hyundai shoppers not happy with new-car prices might migrate to used. Dealers need those.

Why do you argue that it is the role of elected officials to steer the future of the automobile? Certainly the government should offer grants to research advanced technologies and offer incentives to small manufacturers that can innovate and integrate those technologies to improve existing platforms. However, why should the government be using tax money to shove technology and designs down citizens' throats that they don't want or need? If a company comes along and designs an amazing car, people will buy it, and that company will make lots of money. If a company designs junk (like what GM and Chrysler did through the last decade), they will suffer. It's not the role of government to pick and chose which companies succeed or fail, that should be left up to the consumer. The future of the automobile should be left in the hands of the automakers and the users, not a bunch of beaurocrats that get driven around in town cars and taxis.

I am arguing that the government has a political and economic responsibility to ensure that we, as a nation, remain technologically and educationally competent. The only politicians who don't understand that are those who don't read, don't travel, drink far too much tea, and don't think. Look at Germany. It invests loads of "taxpayer money" into retaining and maintaining its own industrial and technological bases. It puts money into strenthening its educational system, especially in technology, science...and art. As a result, Germany has a lower unemployment rate than all of an economically troubled Europe. German products generally are revered. Look at China's national investment in science, technology, commerce. It is high time that we in America jettison the childish, selfish sophistry of individualism uber alles. Somewhat to that point, I am ever amazed that many of us who call ourselves Christians also think that it is "socialist" to work for and with one another for the greater good of the nation.

Happy Friday, Warren. With the arrival of our second child, and large amounts of family living close to us, need to buy a vehicle with at least an option (foldable is fine) for a third row of seats. No minivans, alas. And nothing the size of a Durango. Size-wise, think CX-9 or Sorento. Any good choices for us?

I'd certainly look at the Sorento, also the Mazda CX7 and CX9. The CX5 is something of a possibility. As is the Ford Flex, which is more wagon than anything,

I am probably unlike most of your posters/readers in that I really do not enjoy driving or have much interest in cars. However, I will need to purchase one in the near future after relying on public transportation for decades. I will not have to commute in the car, but will need it for around-town errands, minimal hauling of dog and garden supplies, and weekend trips of 50 miles or less--after one cross-country trip to retire on the West Coast (yes, I want to buy the car before the trip so I can get my dog out there safely). I am considering the Honda Fit Sport, with an automatic transmission. Your views? Anything else I should be looking at? Thanks!

I was going to recommend, in fact, the Honda Fit Sport. It has space for a large dog withthe rear seats folded. It also has space for your stuff. It's fun to drive, safe, and reliable.

Warren, I do get a chuckle when people ask you if they can put regular versus premium gas. If they can afford the more expensive car, then they should be able to budget for the extra gas.

That is one painfully accurate way of stating the obvious.

Does Carmax usually pay more than trading car into the dealer that you are buying the new car from?

Not necessarily. But Carmax offers fewer headaches.

Good morning, Warren. I'm wondering how you feel about this week's crash test results. I'm of two minds. I want my loved ones to be protected as well as they can be, but I don't think any level of safety can substitute for a capable, careful driver.

You have correctly answered your own question.

Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week. Thank you, Dominique Vu, for another fine production. Thank you, Ria, for looking after things in my absence. I know that this is a pain, but could you please make sure that the Little One fill out those forms for ESI. Thanks.

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Warren Brown
Warren Brown has covered the cars industry for The Washington Post since 1982.

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