Real Wheels Live (April 22)

Apr 22, 2016

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.

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Good Morning Warren and Friends,

It must be summer - everyone is traveling, or has traveling plans. 


Yesterday Mary Nichols, California Air Resources Board (CARB) and other government officials drove from Santa Monica to Sacramento, CA in "Mary's Valley Rally" touting hydrogen cars, Toyota Mirai and Hyundi Tucson, that can get 300 miles to the driving range. They only had to stop once to make it to Sacramento. Good thing, there's only one hydrogen station in the San Joaquin Valley :) Could you see them running out of hydrogen in Turlock, CA and trying to hitch a ride on a tractor, or a diesel pickup? LOL


If you're thinking of coming to Northern California, the best part of California, up to Half Moon Bay - where the fog and surfers are a plenty - look at the deal Ritz Carlton has, spend the night and they throw in a Tesla to use for the day.


If you're thinking of going to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico I wrote an article on what I did and the tips I had for fun. 


And to the chatter last week that asked, "Thanks to Lou Ann's help and that of her friend via this chat, I have looked at and been quoted a pretty good deal on a 2016 Audi A6 -  if I pull the trigger, can Lou Ann please explain "want" vs "need" to my wife?" 


I would explain to your wife that there are wants and needs in this world. You need transportation, but you want something fun to drive, such as the A6. Just like when you felt a need to get married, no one else would do except for your wife, you wanted her and only her. And she should know that you have really good taste because you picked her :) She will give you the look, turn around and walk away. But over drinks with her girlfriends they will have the best laugh, and you will have your car. 

Warren & Lou Ann Have begun researching local inventories for a new compact sedan or crossover with all the latest safety tech. Seems that dealers carry very few models with the tech packages. Plenty of "appearance" packages and chrome, but not collision avoidance. Is the hardware slow in rolling out from the manufacturers, or are dealers finding that the safety stuff doesn't sell? James, Chicago

Yes, you are right. It is easier to sell flash--sound system, moon-roof, larger wheels--than it is to monetize safety, apparently. Too bad, money spent on a lane-departure warning system can keep you out of a grave....or courtroom.

Usually Consumer reports looks very favorably on Lexus cars. But they never seem very positive about their IS models? Is this just a bad car or a tough segment to compete in? Thanks

When you're competing against the BMS 3-series and the Audi A4 you have to be spectacular. They rule the land. There's nothing wrong with the car as far as I know, turbocharged four-cylinder engine with decent mpg and normal price for that range.

It just has to find its way

WB: Have you had a chance to test out the 2017 Volt yet? I know that Lou Ann (and the rest of the media) likes the new Volt. How much is the driving different it then my 2009 Honda Civic Ex-L (is part of the charm that the new Volt drives like a normal Internal Combustible engine, but more green)? Thanks

Not yet. C',mon Chevrolet. And trucks, too.

My son owns and drives regularly a 22 year old Honda Accord and a 20 year old VW Golf. I estimate the repairs and maintenance for both combined total about $3300 for all these years. You certainly have a lot more money to spend if you are not car poor.

You're talking to a woman that has no debt; no car debt, no credit card debt, no mortgage. It is such a freeing feeling.

I recommend it everytime I can. Thanks for keeping your money and paying your bills.

Warren, the "d" in "Td6" means your Rangie employs a diesel, not gasoline, engine. Perhaps if your reviews included more car-related insights and less of your socio-economic soapbox views, you'd get details like this right.

That was a regrettable mind-slip. Thank you. My reviews will continue to look at the state of the car industry and the effect o cars and trucks on society.

Have either of you seen the new Miata RF in person? In the pictures I've seen, it sure looks great - what are your impressions?

The fastback and furious? I didn't. It was shown at the New York auto show, but I had a 92 year old family member that needed attention at the same time. She is fine now, thank you.

I love the Mazda Miata, however and can't wait to drive it.

The North American model will have the SKYACTIV-G 2.0, other markets will have the option of either the SKYACTIV-G 1.5 or SKYACTIV-G 2.0

I have been watching Elio Motors for well over a year, probably two years. At first, it sounded too good to be true, an affordable car with an incredible mpg. But, then I saw they only have a few demo cars built and continued to push back the production date time and time again. They hadn't even designed the engine of the "car" when they made the initial cost and mileage claims. I won't get excited about them until the cars actually go on sale.

I am with you on excitement, however, what I like is that there are small niche car companies coming out with innovative ideas.

We as a Nation have a lot to be proud of and part of that is our ability to creat and re-create.

Let's celebrate that.

You said last week you wanted more women to participate in these chats. How do you know if we are men or women?

With many men, it's easy. They seem more interested in telling you what they know, which is fine. Many women, just the opposite.

It looks like VW is going to do the right think for us TDI owners, although I'm sure many will complain. I love my TDI, and would get another one--if they become available again. BTW, I was a beneficiary of the Audi "unintended acceleration" farce in the 1980s. At that time Audi gave us a $5000 voucher if we bought another Audi. $5000 was a lot of money in 1987! Your thoughts?

It baffles me why these companies choose to do the wrong thing in the first place. Now, there's Mitsubishi. VW is taking the right course, a cost, so far, of $4.6 billion.

I have to chuckle at your advice in your introduction today - reminds me a bit of "Click & Clack" on NPR giving relationship advice regarding car issues. Not sure, actually, how I did it, but my wife agreed to our purchase of a BMW Z3 13 years ago, my best argument being if I wait another ten years I'll be too old to enjoy it. We have taken many road trips, had lot's of top-down sunshine, and now 13 years later I'm not really too old to enjoy it.

OK! And you were right about waiting another 10 years.

Don't know if my previous question was submitted but curious to get your reactions on VW's news yesterday and if you know more about how much they're going to compensate owners as I've read anything from $2000 to $5000. Thanks!

You can hear me on the John Batchelor radio show tonight talking about this



This is directly from the transcript -

In particular, they have reached an agreement in principle
as to what to do about the approximate 480,000 2-liter engine
cars on the road and the associated environmental consequences
resulting from the excess emissions from these vehicles.
It is my understanding that the Federal Trade Commission
supports the agreement in principle, pending final Commission
It is also my understanding that the agreement will give
consumers several options, including the option to have
Volkswagen buy back their vehicle; and, subject to governmental
approval after further testing, the option to have the
consumer's vehicle modified in accordance with the agreement;
and for those consumers who have leased their car, to cancel
the lease and return the car to Volkswagen.
The consumers will not have to elect which option to
pursue until the consumer has had the opportunity to fully
evaluate the details of each option. There is nothing for the
consumer or their counsel to do until they receive the actual
formal notice.

In addition, the agreement will fully address any excess
emissions of NOx coming from these vehicles, and the
environmental consequences from these excess emissions, by
establishing a fund for appropriate remediation efforts. In
addition to all these other matters, Volkswagen will be
required to commit other funds to promote green automotive

indeed, I am sure you are aware there are approximately 90,000
cars with 3-liter engines. As well, there are the issues of
fines and penalties.
It is the Court's expectation that the parties, in
addition to finalizing the agreements that I've just discussed,
will work expeditiously in resolving these outstanding issues.

I'm going to order
another status conference on May 19th, 2016, at 8:00 a.m.,

FWIW I like your reviews in their current coverage form. The auto industry is part of society and should be covered as such. Plenty of other review sites cover just the nuts and bolts of vehicles, read those if that's al you're interested in. Thanks Warren!

You are welcome. And I apologize. I should not write or say anything after taking clonidine.

What causes all of the fog?

water droplets suspended in the air. I used to live in San Francisco and it was so cool to watch the fog roll in. It looked like tentacles coming over the land from the sea.

Like a sea monster!

My wife and I just finished a 3300 mile car trip and I became aware that the trip would have been much less convenient if I had a claimed maximum range of only 300 miles, especially with the limited availability of facilities to recharge hydrogen or electric vehicles, the trip would have involved a great deal more hassle. What is the most reasonable estimate when hydrogen and electric recharging infrastructure will approach that which exists for gasoline and hydrogen vehicles, if ever? How do the times required for each refill/recharge compare to that required to fill a gas tank?

Based on conversations with "experts," I say 2050.

Can go places other competitors can't ie Bentley's SUV, Audi's Q5 and Q7, various Lexus SUVs, BMW's X5 and all the Mercedes SUVs except for the G wagon. I have pulled many a X5, GLs, and Lexi SUVs out of their parking spots in the grass at the Wed polo matches in Middleburg with Grand Cherokee. My Jeep sees dirt, mud, and grass at least once a week. Clifton, VA

I just read about a fellow journalist that got a Bentley SUV stuck in the sand for their article. It does happen.

We know all the virtues of a Jeep - it is an iconic brand, part of the reason Chrysler group is alive today

Hi, Lou Ann and Warren: Any thoughts on the judge's ruling Thursday covering some aspects of the TDI cars with the cheater device? Is it fair enough to consumers? And how long will it take VW to bounce back in the USA? Garey, Ottawa

Hi, Garey. Fair to consumers? No, but only because the cheating was totally unfair to consumers in the first place.  But it seems a genuine attempted fix. It is hard to find perfection after you deliberately screw up good. But VW is trying.

Just a comment is response to the post about the new Volt. I would encourage readers to be more open minded about the electric car driving experience. The goal doesn't have to be to drive like an ICE car. I have had a Leaf for an year and a half and have come to the conclusion that the electric car experience is superior to an ICE. The low end torque, smooth acceleration (no shifting) and zero maintenance are great. This is why the latest "supercars" are adding electric motors. They want the better performance. And the thing that surprised me is how nice it is to no longer have to think before leaving the house in the morning, "Do I need to get gas?"

Many people don't think of the low-end torque, but I love that feature. Going up a hill that torque just kicks in!

Yep, the $1,000,000 Porsche 918 spyder hybrid only gets 18 miles driving range, but it's the batteries that compensate for other areas that you mentioned.

A mere $75 to the mechanic around the corner and I think I have adequate AC in my 2000 Passat to make it through another steamy Other West Coast summer (which began last week). I've come to think of him as a great car-wife. Like my far, far better half, he has a few dings and some unsolvable mechanical questions...but still the best I ever had. (Especially considering that I'm the human equivalent of an '82 Olds Delta 88...too big, too slow, and prone to break down for no apparent reason.

love it! My '93 grandma doddy lexus ls400 still has a lot of life in her, sometimes I think more than me. It's all perspective

I thought Warren said fog is caused by pollution from cars: 

You thought wrong. I might have said that tailpipes spewing gasoline exhaust are mighty contributors to SMOG. But anyone sitting on a pirogue drinking Dixie beer on a Louisiana swamp knows that FOG is a thing of mother nature.

A while ago I asked which car would be better/more fun to drive/buy, a manual 2016 Jetta or an automatic 2015 Audi A3, and one or both of you recommended the Audi. I bought it, and it is a fabulous car. The technology is awesome. Not a big fan of the turbo lag, but I am learning to live with it, and the three drive modes do give me more say on when to shift, so I can counteract that somewhat. The engine is smooth as silk and the handling is great. Anyway, thank you for the spot-on advice.

It's all about learning to live with the idiosyncrasies of the ones we love. 

I recently bought the new 2017 Elantra with the "ultimate" package that includes all of the tech stuff and all of the new safety systems. The dealer didn't have the color I wanted on their lot but they found one in Pennsylvania that they went and got for me. At the time there were only a couple of the ultimates in stock. It appears that Hyundai expects to mostly sell the SE model with the "popular" package. But they tout all of the safety stuff in their commercials which are only available on the top trim level. I think people just don't want to spend over $25K on a "compact" car. I am glad all of this stuff is at least available on this model though. It wasn't that long ago that you had to buy a luxury car to get things like the radar cruise control at all. Personally I didn't mind spending a little more to get all of that stuff. Beats paying $35K+ for a Euro brand.

Your experience correctly reflects the changing car world.  Dealerships and their manufacturers often push the "popular" packages because they can sell them, because most people readily see the  value in them. But I'd rather drop the glitz and buy the safety. All you need is one accident that could have been avoided by rear cross-traffic alert to change your mind, which is why more of those driver assistance packages are continuing to sell.

Lou Ann, my beloved and I honeymooned in Sonoma back in 1998. One night, we stayed at a roadside/oceanfront motel-ish place with a very tall totem pole topped by a hand facing the road. I've been unable to locate this place with my Google machine, but since you know everything, it finally occurred to me to ask you...any idea? Thanks!

I've got some friends in the area. I'll ask them. If they respond I'll let you know on here today or next week. Any chance it could be in Petaluma?

Could it be

The deal is gawd awful for the folks who own VWs. Current owners got the shaft. Come on Warren. This is a bad deal for VW owners and a decent deal for VW. Lets hope VW pulls out of the US market.

Fine. Your opinion. As I said, cheating was "gawd awful" for those folks in the first place. Remedy is never perfect.

Chances are better than 50% VW pulls out of US market even with the deal and takes Audi back to Germany too.

I wouldn't bet on that. I would bet that we are going to see a lot of VW electric vehicles come out and epa and carb are going to have a lot of help with charging stations going in around the country.

Mary Nichols told me yesterday that the El Monte CARB center is going to be moving from the decrepit building to a new state of the art building in UC Riverside.

MAybe we should name it VW-CARB :)

... and by the way, I am a woman. Which you probably guessed, since I originally asked for advice! :-)

Thank you. Thanks for joining us today.

Interested in emerging green technologies for cars, but how to make up for the lost gas tax?

Mary Nichols talked about that yesterday on Mary's Valley Rally. People are not using as much gasoline as they used to, we are already seeing that.

At some point there will be a mileage tax. It has to happen - we have to maintain the roads and the taxes are what do it.

I would say the chances are maybe 40%. VW has a long history of making bonehead moves regarding its US production. There was the cylinder head issue on its water cooled engines in late 70's and at the same time producing the Rabbit in the US. VW Rabbits made in the US were awful in comparison to the German made ones. And yeah I had a German made 78 bunny and my parents a 1980 US made one. Then they closed the US plant. Paint issues in the late 80's and awful dealer service and I purchased a 3 series in 1990 and sold my 87GTI 16v. I wouldnt by a VW now if if came with a free 911 GT3. Clifton, VA

I think you are wrong. I certainly hope you are wrong. VW  is heavily invested here. Losing $4.6 billion on this foolishness. Bad. But I don't think, and certainly hope not fatal. VW makes very good vehicles that all of us should have access to. Cut the schadenfreude, Clifton.

I agree with Warren, safety features are way more important than bells-and-whistles, but I can say one of the disappointing things with many newer cars is the paint jobs from the factory just don't seem to last like they used to. Used to think this wasn't a bell-and-whistle item, but for some automobile makers, apparently it is.

It's about money. They scrimp where they can. Remember awhile back, I think it was the Ford paint that just started peeling? They learned their lesson and put that extra coat of whatever it was they took off.

It's not a safety issue, as much as a longevity issue.

Is this it?

There is a great deal of difference in how each of us drives and that affects how we view automobiles. I make several trips a year where recharging electric cars would require extra stops and a longer journey, so electric cars are not suitable for me. Unlike Clifton, I seldom travel on anything worse that a good dirt road or non paved driveway, so I have no need for off road capability. What does intrigue me is possibility of a plug-in hybrid with a reasonable electric-only range and the ability to drive transcontinental on a gas engine. The new Volt sounds interesting. is there anything else similar expected in the next few years?

The new Volt is interesting. Tesla's prospectus on new battery technology is promising, as well as technology under development by GM and Toyota. This will continue moving forward. Here's something to set Clifton atwitter: A future world in which drivers and non-drivers, or persons using vehicle  transport, are no longer limited by physical disability.

I recently bought a car for the first time in years and was surprised by the lack of color choice. White, silver, gray. A few black ones here and there. On car commercials, they seem to use flashy red cars, but you don't see them on the lots. Have we just gotten boring?

Yes, we are boring. We don't even have cars the color of the sky anymore. Stretch was driving the other day and remarked that the car coming towards him was the same color as the asphalt.That is to close to wanting to blend in

Wear color people, sing loud, laugh loud, enjoy life.

...only because the deck had a big bathtub/hot tub that looked right out over the ocean. It was on US 1, pretty close to the Muir Woods. You'd think I could find it, wouldn't you?

I have a very reliable 1999 Honda Civic with more than 200,000 miles on it. But I'm now making regular 500 mile RTs to help out my dad and I want something with updated safety. I'm not in the market for anything fancy--another Civic, maybe a Focus. Price is an issue. What do you suggest?

You can go with a new Honda, or, better I think, look at a comparable Kia. "Better" for value.

Got it. Love it. Still figuring out the tech stuff. And still married.

And she's still laughing at you with her girlfriends.

It's a good thing :)

That -- and many other things -- happened on my 2-year-old Continental, a/k/a the last Ford I'll ever own.

Understandable. But that was then. This is now. Things change. Japan and Germany once were mortal enemies. They are now valued allies and trading partners that enable you to stop buying Fords. Things change.

Any idea when a refreshed Jeep Cherokee (not the Grand) will be released? Thanks.

I don't know. The lonely Jeep Cherokee doesn't get as much play as the Grand. I will ask and let you know next week.

Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week. Thanks Gene, Lou Ann and Ria. Especially, thank you Ria for your great save this week. It really helped. Eat lunch.

Thank you thank you thank you! (I knew you'd get in in 1)

funny enough, I asked my peeps on facebook and it was a guy in Europe that knew the answer.

Thanks Axel Catton

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 Recently Lou Ann has developed an automotive and energy issues related website,, that covers a broader range of subjects than solely the automotive or the energy industry.
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