The Washington Post

Real Wheels Live (May 19)

May 19, 2017

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:

What is the first car you ever remember seeing? Did you collect model cars as a child? What is the first car you ever owned? Did you ever try to buy that car again later in life?

I am currently in Rome, Italy.  Italy is a country that talks in timeframes of B.C. and A.D. I had to stop and take it in when our tour guide, Francesca, told us that the Coliseum was built in 72 A.D. Really? All that time and the Italian Government hasn't budgeted any money to fix it up? :)

Veloce Tours, Inc. put together a driving extravaganza, and I am traveling with a dozen members of America's Car Museum located in Tacoma, Washington. We are on a two-week trek to drive cars, visit car museums and private collections, and enjoy all that Italy has to offer.

Last night we had dinner with Mr. Nicola Bulgari, the great-grandson of Sotirios Bulgari, the founder of the Italian luxury jewelry brand Bvlgari. I've seen many car collections, and they are beautiful, but some of the collectors trade their cars like they are baseball cards; others trade them for financial gain. Mr. Bulgari is the consummate collector for the passion and love of the automobile.

For most of the evening I sat with the gentlemen that work on Bulgari's cars; Teddy, Sergio, Marcello, Kris, and Alfredo. If you want to know the mark of a man talk to the people that work for him. They talked about Bulgari and his cars, and his passion for those cars. To add to the description of passionate, they told me that Bulgari doesn't sell his cars, and he doesn't talk about which cars are worth the most in monetary terms. If he did tell you that one was worth a lot it would be the first car in his collection, a 1939 Buick that he bought in 1946 when he was five years old. The second might be the Buick convertible, the first Vatican car he saw on the road.

The guys told me that you could count on your hands the number of cars that have been sold from the collection.  More importantly, they were familiar with the history, the provenance of each vehicle, the people that owned the cars before him, and how the cars were maintained.

Imagine being Bulgari and growing up in Rome, steps away from the Vatican. You're this young Italian kid watching Vatican cars come and go, but these are not Italian cars, they are American cars. Nicola owns the largest collection of American cars from the Vatican of anyone in the world.

Nicola ended up at our table, talking about the cars and I asked him why American cars? He could collect anything, why American cars? He was emphatic; a one-syllable word became three syllables, because "these cars had been FOR-GOT-TEN." Bulgari thinks Americans have emotionally undervalued the importance of their own heritage. He's right, but fortunately, Nicola kept that memory from his younger years burning in his heart, and he has created one of the most impressive American car collections in Europe.

I asked him who his favorite designer was and he said (former General Motor's chief designer) Ed Welburn, "He's my favorite friend." I looked at him, straightened my back and said: "He's my favorite friend." Without hesitation, he picked up his phone and called Ed. It's those moments that are just absolute fun. By the time I handed the phone back to Nicola, Ed Welburn and I had set a date to visit Bulgari's collection in Allentown, PA. That should make for a good story, eh?

Welburn was as emphatic about his friendship with Bulgari as Bulgari was about Welburn, "He is one of my dearest, closest friends. He has an appreciation for American automobiles that no one else has. I have learned so much from him about autos and about true friendship."

A couple of tips for you:

You can apply for a grant from RPM if you are interested in automotive Restoration, Preservation, and Mentoring. RPM wants to help you if you have a program for educating and teaching young people the specialized skills and knowledge needed to maintain cars.

If you want Italian wine shipped from Italy to the USA, Tesori dell' Umbria will ship for free in May and June 2017. You can look online, but email Francesco at to get the shipping deal. If you plan to visit Italy, the store is a few steps away from the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, in Assisi.

Oh, and you know that phrase "through rose-colored glasses"? Who knew that they were really talking about a glass of Italian red wine; try the Brunello, Frescobaldi, Chianti Rufino. Delightful.

Ciao Bella!
Let's chat about cars

Many questions come to mind regarding autonomous vehicles. First, how could the car sickness issue be ameliorated? People like me get nauseous riding and not driving while sitting in the front of the vehicle. If the vehicle is fully autonomous (i.e. no manual control allowed at any time): How would one park the vehicle in a garage, to load/unload goods, or any other exact spot to be worked on? How would one drive off-road, through deep snow, or any other condition where the computer/gps doesn’t know the correct path? This would especially be an issue on farms/ranches. What is one to do if he/she needs to stop suddenly if something went out the window, or needs to throw up or something like that? How would one stop to pick up a loved one if they are walking by the road and need a ride? How could a situation be averted where a mob decides to surround the car for nefarious purposes (such as to rob the occupants)? In a normal vehicle, the driver could just plow through the mob forward or reverse. An autonomous vehicle would just sit there as a sitting duck. If we are all forced into autonomous vehicle sharing: What is one to do if he/she is a parent, trade worker, or other person who normally keeps heavy items in the vehicle for regular use? Load/unload every single time (imagine hundreds or thousands of pounds worth of items)? How would the vehicle owner prevent the occupants from doing or leaving disgusting things in the vehicle? Unlike a normal taxi, there would be no one to “supervise”.

Every group I talk to at this point says there will be a way to switch from autonomous to manual. They are also saying that if the car is in danger, such as both systems fail there will be the ability for the car to go to the side of the road.

Is all this worked out yet? No, but we are getting closer. I was just at an Nvidia GTC17 event in San Jose, CA  and everyone in the autonomous world is there. I'll have that article done next week, but basically all car companies are getting closer to some of the answers to these questions.

We had convinced ourselves to buy a Kia/Hyundai product based on Warren's impressions of their quality. But with 1.2 million vehicles under recall in the U.S. for potential engine failure and another quarter million just recalled in South Korea due to a whistle-blower revelation of other problems, we have delayed our purchase. Warren has in the past rationalized problems by saying cars are made by humans and humans are only, well, human. What does Warren recommend prospective buyers of Hyundai/Kia products do as of May 19, 2017? What would Warren do?

WWWD? He would stil same the same. I don't want to diminish the relevance of those recalls, but I would bet in comparison those recalls are small in number to their counterparts.

And a quick Thank You to the whistleblower. You have saved people's lives.

I've been shopping for a new car and have noticed that some cars now have electronic parking brakes that cannot be turned on or off when the car battery has died. In other words, if the parking brake is on, it cannot be turned off, and, if it is off, it cannot be turned on when the battery is dead. I view this as a real problem. What are your views on this?

I would like to be snarky and say how many times has your car battery gone dead, however with the multitude of electronics in cars these days...

I haven't heard of this problem, however you are not going anywhere till you get a new battery, so the problem would be cleared up when you get a new battery.

I have read articles indicating that new cars sales are slowing and that there are larger than usual numbers of cars going off-lease, resulting in lower used car prices. Are used car prices really going down, specifically for Certified Pre Owned vehicles? Thanks.

And the number of days a car is on a dealer's lot is going up, so that means you have more cars to choose from. The longer they sit on the lot the more it costs the dealer in insurance etc, so they are going to be looking to clear those cars off the lot.

What this means is that you will get good prices on the used and news ones. It's a good time to be a buyer.

I moved to El Paso TX about two years ago, and self-driving cars cannot come soon enough. It's about an 8-hour drive to San Antonio, and except for about 30 minutes when you leave El Paso and 45 minutes before you arrive in San Antonio, there is truly no need for the driver to control the vehicle.

Stretch and I drove from Toronto to Auburn, CA a few years ago and I agree. That song wide open spaces is true. Truckers are feeling the same thing. Autonomous trucking would be an interesting concept; if we could just get those self-absorbed road ragers to stop cutting right in front of 18-wheelers. Do those crazys really believe they would be alive if they got in an accident with a big-hauler? Only by the grace of God and defensive driving of the trucker. We have a ways to go with autonomous but that is one aspect I worry about. 

This is to let you know about unethical practices that a NoVa dealership is practicing. A friend received a postcard from this dealership saying that her car was part of a vehicle recall. She called the number on the postcard. The person answering the phone transferred her to the Service Department. They got her to make an appointment. When she arrived, they said that there "might have been" a recall for some vehicles they sell, but there wasn't for this vehicle. But, since she was there, how about if the dealership performed this and that maintenance? When my friend took her car to the place where she normally has her work done, they told her that she was at least the 4th person to ask about this specific postcard. Every recall notice I've received in the past has come from the manufacturer, not the dealership. Buyer beware indeed!

Indeed! and thank you for that.

Would you be so kind as to send me a copy of that postcard to lou at driving the nation dot com?

I will handle it from here

I have read that a new Camry is due in 2018. Will the Avalon and the Lexus ES be updated at the same time? Thank you.

Good question. I will be on the launch of the new Toyota Camry the week of june 12-15. send me an email at lou at driving the nation dot com and I will ask them.

When would be the best time to get the best deal on a Mazda3 hatchback? Memorial Day sales or when the 2018 models come out?

Memorial Day sales.

I got your email - I will look into it. email me at lou at driving the nation dot com and I will follow up.

Gene (our producer) thank you

I checked this site, as you recommended last week, and it has some good information on car sales numbers, but you might have to work a little to find them. You must know to click on "media" and then you will probably want to use the search function as it currently has 1933 pages under that title. I found it useful and worth bookmarking, but still hope to find something even better for checking auto sales numbers. Thanks.

Did you try or

I've always said the difference between us and Europe is that to an American, 100 years is a long time; to a European, 100 miles is a long way!

LOL - I will have to remember that.

Francesca said 72 A.D. and I kept asking her if it was 72 or 80. She finally got it into my head A.D.

Warren's wife, Mary Anne, would have been in heaven; we went to the Coliseum and the Vatican and I learned all about the Pagans and Peter and Paul.

Oy Vey! :)

The coolest car I remember as a child was a 1954 Ford convertible in Cameo Coral. A very pretty car, even used in local parades for the pretty girls to sit in. It was the first of several Ford convertibles my father bought over the years I was growing up. Way before seatbelts and car seats, I remember standing up, age 4-5, with the wind in my hair. It began a love affair with convertibles for me too, and so looking forward to the warm spring and summer days ahead.

What a beautiful story. You would love to talk to Nicola Bulgari. He feels the same way. He still remembers all the American cars and watching them as a little boy. I must say, he has more passion for American cars than most Americans.

With the new Grand Cherokee Hellcat coming into the market, will the price of used Grand Cherokee SRT's drop? Any reason why I shouldn't pick up a used one? The SRT's to me have the best of both worlds - speed and utility.

Check with your insurance company, ffirst. The Hellcat comes with ahigh insurance premium. Very high. Are you sure you want to do that?

If a person buys a new car and six weeks later one of the tires fails for any reason, who is responsible, the tire company who made the tire or the dealer who sold you the car?

Depends on what the damage was and who did it. Was it a tire problem, a car problem, or did the driver do something of ill repute?

I do recall back in the day being able to start my car with a dead battery (a VW Beetle, I think) by letting it roll downhill and then "popping" the clutch. Don't think that works with an automatic, though.


I'm skeptical of seeing autonomous cars functional the way I want them to function within my purchase frame (I am 60 - I do have hope for mostly autonomous golf cars, lol!) HOWEVER, I see an early use for them as trolley-substitutes that will NOT need the infrastructure. I live within walking distance of a main, straight road that would take me to within walking distance of my work and also the train station. One, straight, main road with lights. If they get autonomous cars going every 5 minutes at rush hour, I would hop aboard!

There are already electric trolleys in San Francisco, just not autonomous. I like the idea of older people being able to live in their homes longer and having the autonomous car to take them to their appointments

Hi. I'm looking for a used car to replace an even more used car, and it seems as though the prices are really high for the amount of mileage -- many cars with upwards of 100K still holding in the teens despite original sticker prices around 30K. Is this reasonable (in your opinion)?

Used cars are selling well, which is why prices are still high. Shop downscale, new or used.

Lou Ann, Given the move towards greater fuel efficiency, when do you think that the majority of new vehicles coming off the assembly lines will be total electric or plug-in hybrids? Would the rate of residential solar panel installation increase in parallel with the rate of increase in the sales of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles? On another note, please call Warren's attention to a report from the most recent episode of Last Week Tonight, in which John Oliver reports on the shameful behavior of the nation's two largest kidney dialysis firms.

Thank you. Expect

2020 for mass saturation. And thanks for the DaVita tip.

Comparing the following hatchbacks: Mazda 3, Honda Civic , Chevy Cruze and Elantra GT. Which do you prefer? Also very impressed with Mazda's I sense. Have you compared to the other manufacturers safety technology?

In the commercials for GM's recent Chevy sales promotions, I see a glaring exception to the discounts offered on popular vehicles: the Colorado. No discounts. Is that a sign of the Colorado's popularity? When will Ford bring back the Ranger so there can be more competition in this truck segment?

Yes. Car companies don't discount what is selling well.

I recently dealt with this issue on my VW Tiguan. There is a procedure, outlined in the owner's manual, to release the parking brake.

Thank you.

Absolutely! In the 80's I had a succession of crappy 4-speeds that I could start by persuading someone to push me a few yards. You let out the clutch quickly and you're off in 2nd gear, if I recall.


Pushing the car downhill and popping the clutch will still start a vehicle with a manual transmission. But be prepared to use a lot of muscle for steering and braking until the engine fires, because you won't have power steering or power braking.


Thanks for joining us today. Please return next week. Be careful overseas,Lou Ann. Thanks Gene and Ria. Lunchtime!

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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