The Washington Post

Real Wheels Live (Sept. 9)

Sep 09, 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,

We're flying solo today folks. My good buddy, and yours, Warren, is on hiatus. He and my girlfriend, Mary Anne, aka Mrs. Brown, are in the throes of packing, moving and unpacking. The good news is that Stretch and I now have our own room in their new house.

I'm in Miami today for the first domestic auto show of the year. Yep, the automobile show season has started. Miami moved its show to September, so instead of Los Angeles in November, we start in Miami in September. I know Nissan has an SUV and sedan they are showing, but till tomorrow I can't say...mums the word :)

Are any of you in Miami this week? Would you like some free tickets to the Miami auto show? email me at lou at and I will work with the Miami auto show group to have them at will call for you.

In Vancouver, the Electra Meccanica Solo is being unveiled today. The SOLO is designed as a commuter vehicle with a  16.1 kW/h lithium ion battery system utilizes for up to 100 Mile driving range. The one-seater minicar is made of a lightweight aerospace composite chassis with a top speed of 80 mph and a battery system that requires only three hours of charging time from zero to fully charged on a 220-volt charging station.

I drove a beautiful blue Ford Focus this weekend. Once again, Ford's SYNC infotainment gave me no problems. The blasted noise in the dash almost had me wearing earplugs. I've driven many Fords and never had that problem. I am sure it is being fixed as we speak.  The Focus out the door was $27,000, and I got 25 mpg from the EPA estimated fuel economy ratings of 26 city/38 highway/ 30 combined.

Let's chat about cars

In the market for a mid-sized car. Which would you recommend - Prius, hybrid sedan, or regular sedan with good gas mileage? Recommendations for a make/model would be the icing. Thanks!

The one car that I have driven that gives me consistently as much, if not more, than what the EPA fuel economy - over 50 mpg - says it should be is the Toyota Prius hybrid sedan/hatchback.

The new 2017 will be a complete redesign. I believe there will be a plug-in version as well.

Sales of the Prius are down this year, so you should get a really good deal on one.

What's Warren's preference for the vehicles best able to assuage a chronically sore back (entrance, egress, seats, steering wheel and pedal positions) ?

Warren is taking a personal day today :) But I know his favorite seats are Volvo and Nissan.

Volvo is known for their research and development into seats, including children's seats. Nissan has NASA seats that are very comfortable.

I have recently seen two online articles about the decline in sedan sales in the US. These articles focused on cars like the Camry, Accord, etc. Is this phenomenon as pronounced for more expensive and/or sportier models like the Audi A4 and BMW 3 series? You have mentioned the decline in hatchback and station wagon sales, are we going to be left with few choices to CUV/SUV vehicles?

I just talked about this with John Batchelor radio show and Mary Kissel from WSJ - gas prices are down, interest rates are down, fuel economy on suvs are up. You get more room in an SUV, so people who are growing in girth or children desire SUV/CUV.

Yeah, look at the numbers on the link - cars sales are down 25% in some cases, while Jaguar F-Pace helped bring Jaguar up 188% year-over-year.

All car sales are slipping.

So i want a new or not too old Mercedes E class diesel, and the sales guy said I want 2014 or later because the engine was improved that model year. A friend said a salesman told her Mercedes was not going to bring in the diesel sedans after the 2016 model year. Did either of these guys have a clue? Also, these cars seem to be pretty scarce, only one on the dealer's lot.

Just when diesel was getting known as clean diesel, VW diesel gate captured the market and slowed sales.

California has passed SB32 which - if CARB has their way - will outlaw all diesel on the California roads.

There is a huge headwind against diesels in the US.

Has anyone driven the Fiat 124 Spider? Thanks, Bill from Fairfax.

Hi Bill from Fairfax. I drove the Fiat 124 Spider in the '70s and the 21st century ;)

Completely different car, but still fun.

Hi Lou Ann and Warren, we are finally excited to be graduating from our minivan, but still need a three-row SUV. The biggest shock we are noticing is how little cargo space is available when using all three rows, which we will need to do most often. That wasn't a problem in our van, but we are NOT getting another minivan under any circumstances. We shopped the new Mazda CX-9, engine was too noisy being a 4cyl turbo, no captain's chairs available in the second row (a must), not enough cargo space to accommodate a suitcase behind the third row. The Buick Enclave seemed to offer more cargo and captain's chairs, but the technology is old and the interior design outdated (still must use a key to start engine). We are trying to avoid a huge SUV like the Chevy Suburban, but what else should we be looking at? Which crossover offers the maximum cargo space behind the third row and IN the third row (so adults can ride comfortably)?

I am in a GMC Acadia at home (I'm actually in Miami in the hotel avoiding the Zika spray right now) and I really like the drive of that bus. It is big, but it is what you're looking for. The design has been described as a hearse because of the square back, but that means more cubic feet in the vehicle. I am getting 20 mpg which I think is good.

Did you look at the Pathfinder and Pilot?

20/27/23 Pathfinder 6K towing
highlander 19/25/
explorer 17/24/20

Now that you can stay with the Browns, will you and Warren be at the D.C. auto show?

We were there last year, both of us! There was a little snow storm and the whole city shut down :)

Hi Lou Ann, To continue a topic from last week's discussion: chin rash on the front air dams of vehicles. Manufacturers do not bear all the blame for chin rash. Most vehicles have sufficient front clearance. A major cause of chin rash is driveways that are not built to industry standard pitch, and/or do not take into account the slope of the road to which they connect. Several of our vehicles that are suspended at normal vehicle height have gotten scraped by badly built driveways. Where has the Brown family moved? Out of Arlington?

I love that term - chin rash. I hadn't heard of it before.When I think of it I think of the sports cars that are low to the ground.

Warren is out of Arlington in the green green grass of horse country in Virginia.

The Electra Meccanica Solo reminds me of the Elio Motors car, except it only has one seat instead of Elio's two. I guess electric vs gas is another difference. I know that Elio has been taking orders for a few years and keeps pushing back the actual production date. Do you think Electra is on schedule to actually produce and sell their cars in 2017? I assume it will be considered a motorcycle and require a helmet in many states.

The only information I have on the vehicle is from

The embargo was lifted right before we went live so I haven't had time to read through it, I barely had time to get it in the monologue.

In Atlanta, I saw on the road for the first time yesterday, the new Caddy CT6. What were they thinking? It reminded me of a Chrysler New Yorker from 1977. Cadillac has the best concept designs I've seen from any automaker. What are they afraid of? Is the CT6 selling well anywhere?

Cadillac currently has six categories; four cars (ATS, CTS, CTS, CT6), two crossovers (XT5 and the outgoing SRX), and one SUV (Escalade)

You and WSJ;s Dan Neil seem to think alike; here is his article on the XT5

Have you driven the Ford Focus RS. If so, how does it stack up against the other high performance cars of similar size? Thanks.

It's okay, I really like the Fiesta ST.

I've been reading about surveys that list Audi on top for quality. I've owned several makes, but the German cars I've owned in the last 10 years (an Audi and BMW) were the most problematic and expensive to repair once the warranty was up. How long-term are these studies? I'd feel much more comfortable buying a Lexus and even some American models before getting screwed by German car dependability.

It is one of the reasons leasing is on the rise; once the warranty is up people don't want to pay the exorbitant prices to fix a vehicle. So they lease vehicles till the warranty expires.

It depends on the study. Some are longer in length and some, like consumer reports, has the actual consumer chiming in. That can be good or bad, depending on whether the consumer is answering technically or if they are upset at the dealer.

I am sure this has been asked. When did automakers stop having the rear lights on when ANY front lights are on and instead only have them on when the main headlights are on? Many folks seem to turn on those "new" parking lights which many times are LEDs and think that is sufficient, but when driving in the rain or fog you end up coming up on a dark car with no rear lights. Shouldn't this be changed. By the way thanks for all of the great information you provide as we will be looking for a car for our daughter now that she has her license.

I have not seen this question, and didn't realize that rear lights didn't come on when you turned the headlights on.

What you are saying is that if the car is in auto and the headlights come on, the rear lights don't' come on? That would be bad, for the reason you stated, and I can't believe NHTSA would agree to that

Hmm. Do you mean that you literally won't be allowed to drive a diesel in CA? How will the produce get to the world, donkey carts?


Many trucks are going to natural gas, but commercial trucks have a different emission value set for them then light- duty vehicles that we drive.

If sedan sales are declining, is this a good time for those of us who are able to avoid following the rush to SUVs/CUVs to pick up a good deal on a sedan? There are some really good sedans on the market right now.

There are some great sedans and hatchbacks on the road right now - absolutely! If you are in the market for a sedan now is the time to buy

Our 2 cents: for the person considering a 3 row, we own the new Pilot & all 5 of us in our family love it. Great space & decent fuel economy to boot. We also started looking at a fuel efficient car for more in town driving & test drove the new Prius. We just couldn't get over its exterior styling. It's as if the designers couldn't agree on a cohesive design & was a complete turnoff. We are now thinking of other hybrids.

Google the 2017 Prius pictures and see if you like the new design.

I agree, the Pilot was nicely appointed and comes with a host of safety features that weren't offered previously.

I see you are offering tickets to the Miami auto show. That's so sweet. You were kind enough to offer - and get me - tickets to the DC show last year but because of the snow storm I never got to go. We do appreciate what you do for your readers! Thanks Lou Ann.

Ahhh thanks!

But no one has emailed me saying they are in the miami area and would like tickets.

Call your friends in Miami and tell them. Free tickets!

Warren and I are planning to be at the DC show again. We were excited about meeting all of you

It's no wonder ... have you seen this thing? U-G-L-Y. (You ain't got no alibi, you're ugly.) Sorry Toyota, you and Honda have really screwed up some nice cars (Honda's Civic sedan. Oy)

A car only your Mother could love.

Maybe you should buy it if you have a neighbor you don't like :)

Like the person who bought my roosters to irritate his neighbors.

Trust me, Honda and Toyota did not build this car thinking it was ugly. But the new design is more pleasant

My reading of history is that new "car" companies do not often survive long enough to actually produce vehicles in volume for a sustained period of time. Is it too harsh to say that the chances of this company, or any other such company, actually putting vehicles into American garages is very low?

It depends on whether they want to stay a niche market or not.

Just did a little research for the person who wanted a 3-seat SUV/CUV. Seems that even in a relatively large vehicle like the Ford Transit Connect with the long wheelbase, there is plenty of cargo room until you use the third seat row. Then the cargo capacity is drastically reduced. The largest cargo capacity behind the third row I could find was 20 cubic feet in the Ford Flex. If the person wants more cargo room than that behind the third seat row, they are going to have to get something quite large, like a Chevy Suburban or a Mercedes Benz Sprinter.

I love you. This is what I love about my chatters. They actually read the other chatters posts and help each other out.

The biggest difference for me on the high vehicles like the Sprinter, Transit Connect, NV3500, and Ram promaster is turning radius. It's a behemoth of a vehicle and if you're going to be in high winds that could be a problem, but the Promaster had a great turning radius and I drove it all the way across the United States.

They didn't like the Suburban, but yes, maybe the Ford Flex. The Flex is a bit more low key than the Suburban.

Hopefully they are still reading.

Thank you for taking the time to help.

Curiosity got the best of me and I had to take a look. Holy Pontiac Aztec, batman. What's with the giant TV screen on the dashboard? The front end. The back end. Admittedly, I've never been a fan of the Prius styling. These iterations really remind me of a car George Jetson would drive.

Have you seen the TV screen in the Tesla?

I believe that is the look they are going for; a multi-universe look :)

Why go global when you can sell to multiple universes? Just like other companies have redesigned their cars to be global, Toyota has redesigned their Prius to be Universal.

We could have a marketing campaign going for them :)

Sorry if I was confusing. I meant that in the old days anytime you turn on any front lights be it parking lights or full headlights the rear lights came on. That is not the case with newer cars. Parking lights only light up front and rear lights only come on if you turn on your full headlights. Hope that clarifies things. Just see it as unsafe. Thanks

Oh thanks for the clarification. You had me concerned.

As long as people leave their headlight status on auto they should be okay then. Or turn them on when it becomes dark to them.

Sometimes, especially right now with the days getting darker faster, the lights don't come on as quickly as I think they should when on auto. I end up turning my lights on earlier.


What the questioner was saying is that the rear lights do not come on when the front parking lights or fog lights go on, but ONLY when the main headlights are on. So people are driving around in the fog thinking that others can see them from the rear, but they can't - following drivers are caught by surprise.

I know some people that find it easier to see in the fog with just their parking lights on, so that could be a problem.

There is a place on NHTSA's website to complain about this

The Wikipedia article on "Daytime Running Lamp" is a good place to start for the person asking about rear lights not being on with daytime running lights on.

But if it is a safety issue they should complain to NHTSA

It's the only way things change.

It seems reasonable that if you have the DRLs on, then no rear lights are needed. If the headlamps are on, then so are the tail lights. The OP seems confused about the difference between DRL and parking lights.

But if there is fog and the rear lights aren't on the person behind you can't see you. In the SAn Joaquin Valley Tully fog is so bad you have to put your rear lights on, but sometimes you can see better without the headlights on, just the low lights.

I believe what the OP was asking about has more to do with daytime running lamps (DRLs). Add to that dashboard lights that "automatically" come on when the car is started. Days of yore you actually had to TURN ON the headlights to get your dashboard lit up. If it was night and you were driving and you couldn't see your dash, then your lights weren't on. Today the lights come on automatically and even if you don't have your headlights set to Auto, I still see so many cars on the roads at night without a single light on. Yet when you pass by them, the dash is lit up like a darn Christmas tree. And the clueless driver has no idea why people are honking and flashing (and cursing) at them.

That's why I was asking, because sometimes the lights might get changed from AUTO and not come on. I can't stand all the bright lights in the dash at night, especially the NAV system.

Am I the only person so self-centered that I don't care much how a car looks on the outside? How it drives, how comfortable it is, and how it looks on the inside are much more important to me.

No, but today we are having fun with what some consider an ugly car. I like the Prius and would buy it. I like the design and the technology.

And I would rather have a car that is more comfortable with great mpg and safety than design :)

Thanks everyone for visiting today. Warren will have the move complete and be back online next week.

If anyone in the Miami area is able to go to the auto show email me at lou at driving

Thanks Gene for the help today.

And Remember

Never drive faster than your Angel can fly

much love,


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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