Real Wheels Live

Nov 27, 2015

The Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown and guest Lou Ann Hammond discussed what they're seeing in the auto industry. Plus, they gave purchase advice to readers.

Good Morning Warren and Friends,

How was everyone's Thanksgiving? It was wonderful at my little house on the hill. Lots of fun, friends and food and food and food. 

Last week I drove from Auburn, CA to Laguna Beach, CA. It takes about seven hours to drive without stopping. That's no fun, so we decided to stop in Lockeford, CA and spend the night with our friends, Richard and Lani Eklund. They own The Inn at Locke Bed and Breakfast. Stretch and Richard are Thorp T-18 flying buddies. It's a lovely Inn surrounded by lots of wineries to go wine tasting. It's practically becoming the second Napa valley in California. 

We drove the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid down and back and on average 42 mpg, but we were sometimes as high as 59.7 mpg. 

The big difference is how much we spent on gasoline. Less than $100! Why? Because everywhere we stopped we were able to plug-in. Out the door the little hatchback that could cost $36,190. It's a car I would buy, If you have a tight turning radius you'll want to take note of that when you're test driving it. 


Not only did The Inn at Locke Bed and Breakfast allow us to plug-in they had a Tesla charger as well. (Richard was one of the first people I know to buy solar panels and he owns a first generation Toyota Prius) 

We stayed at the Ritz Carlton at Dana Point and they had charging units. The Ritz Carlton in Los Angeles had charging units while we went to the auto show. 

Sure, part of it is that gasoline is hovering around $2.30 a gallon here, but that extra bit of charging every time we stopped allowed us to really save. 

We even charged up our car at the California Air Resources Board (CARB) off ice in El Monte, CA while we talked to air pollution specialists there. That story is for next week, though.

Let's chat about cars.

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Can we expect less traffic congrestion in the future because of less accidents?

Less congestion, anyway.

At some point, cars started using key fobs to lock and unlock the doors. Now, not all of the doors on the cars have holes for using a key. The key hole is there more in an emergency when the fob isn't working. On my smart fortwo, the key can be used to unlock the driver's side door, but only unlock the door, it cannot lock it. That was a problem when I discovered the car's battery was dead. I think I had left the dome light on and it drained the battery. The car was parked in a public space and after unlocking the door, I had no way to lock up the car while making plans to have it jump started. While it might be harder to steal a car with a dead battery, I disliked the idea of leaving the car unlocked. I hope that as electronics take over the world, there will always be a non-electronic backup solution available on our cars.

It's an interesting issue I've heard of before, but not the locking part. I thought you could lock and unlock a car with a key just like I do on my 1993 Lexus. 

It's not just the part about stealing the car with a dead battery, what do you do if you have stuff you've bought in the car. 

Could you open the trunk and put all your stuff in there? Just wondering.

OK, I saw the pics from LA...but have you driven it? Does the Fiat turbo make it any better over the Miata?

Truth is, the Fiat turbo is fun. Better than the Miata? To whom? That strictly is a matter of personal choice.

Is it true they will not let you speed and will do the posted speed limit? If so not sure how this will reduce congestion? Everyone doing the same speed means more congestion not less. Our interstates were built with variances in speeds playing a big part. VA State troopers and local LE do not start ticketing per their SOP until you are 12mph or more over the speed limit. Driverless cars will also require a change in liability laws and car insurance. A local Fairfax lawyer

Everyone doing the same safe speed means less congestion, not more. The purpose of autonomous driving is to eliminate accidents. Authorities should be better able to monitor your speed with transponder AD infrastructure in place.

What about if the people that owned autonomous vehicles were the only ones allowed in the HOV lanes? Everyone else stayed in the other lanes and even though they could speed for a short time they probably didn't average the speed in the HOV lane and there were no accidents in the HOV lane? compelling? 

There seem to be changes in liability and car insurance coming anyway. What happens if your car can tell your insurance company you're acting irrational in the car? 

Fiat has never built an engine that doesnt leak. I would by the Miata with a Mazda engine. Also the chances of Fiat still having dealerships in the US 5 to 7 years from now is marginal. Sergio the Great is all hot air. Fiat 500 sales have fallen dramatically and his Alfa dreams are not based on reality. He is modern PT Barnum along with Elon Musk.

Baloney on Fiat engine claim, unless I've driven the only Fiats with engines that didn't leak.

How about the regular hybrid version of the CMax? I don't have anywhere to plug a car in (my condo building's garage does not have them). But the CMax is a nice looking little hatchback

The Ford C-Max, hybrid or regular, works well especialy in the city. Install outside charger. I did.

I would like a four cylinder station wagon or hatchback that is fun to drive, gets great mpg and uses regular unleader gasoline. Suggestions, please?

Ford C-Max plug-in energi

toyota prius V 

both great cars

So I see Alfa Romeo is bringing another new model some time next year that is likely to have a stratospheric price tag. I'm not sure I understand their strategy. My impression of their cars that I've seen in Europe is that they're nicely styled, mass-market vehicles. So why only introduce impractical or very expensive cars here?

it's the audience that fits in the space that the Chrysler Group doesn't already own

I live in a highrise condo. There is nowhere to install your own charger inside the garage or outside.

Well then, makes no sense to buy a hybrid, does it?

this would be a problem. you have to go with a gasoline version. I would do the toyota prius then because it gets 54 mpg on the 2016 model. 

Consumer Reports gave it fairly high marks. What do you think? Also, do you happen to have a link regarding buying vs. leasing (or just general thoughts)?

The Terrain is a decent vehicle. 

If you keep your car till it dies buy it, if you keep the car for a couple years or until the warranty is gone and you don't put many miles on it and you don't like the hassle of selling, lease it. 

Thanks for joining us on this holiday Friday. Shop wisely. Be safe. Come back next week. Thanks Gene, Lou Ann and Ria. Eat leftovers.

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

On Wheels Archive

Real Wheels Live Q&A Archive
Lou Ann Hammond
Lou Ann Hammond is the founder and owner of the first privately owned automobile website Carlist.com. Recently Lou Ann has developed an automotive and energy issues related website, Drivingthenation.com, that covers a broader range of subjects than solely the automotive or the energy industry.
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