Real Wheels Live (July 21)

Jul 21, 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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Sorry that we couldn't chat last week. We're back! 


The last time we chatted a chatter asked about the new concept from Continental AG, one of the big auto suppliers. They were showcasing a speakerless car; the system was built into the car instead. The chatter asked, "Using structural elements of the vehicle as speakers is very interesting as a proof of concept. What are the implications for maintenance and repair? As an example, would auto body shops have to source acoustically tuned structural pieces exclusively from the manufacturer?" 


I sent the question to Continental, and this is the answer I got back, "We interpreted the question as asking if it is necessary that the repair or body shops have to buy spare parts of interior covers directly from the manufacturer. If this is what the viewer is asking then this is the case today and will remain in the future. For example, if your headliner is damaged today you need to buy a new one from the car manufacturer as the spare part is designed to fit in your car model. In the future, it will be the same, the spare part is developed to fit in the car and is designed for the acoustical properties that are needed in that specific vehicle." 

Audi had a 24-hour party to introduce the 2018 Audi A8, in Barcelona, Spain. Four different waves from around the world, six hours each to watch a beautifully choreographed world premiere. The event was hosted by Kunal Nayyar (known for his role as Rajesh Koothrappali on the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory).  In the article, there are some videos of the unveil (I still have more to put up on youtube, hopefully, this week), but I also put some videos from 2010 at the Challenge Bibendum in Brazil, where Audi showed us what the future would look like with predictive traffic vehicle-to-grid. Watch one of the videos from 2010 and the video of today; it's amazing how far we have come in technology and the way to show it.


I got home and flew to Detroit, MI for the world premiere of the 2018 Honda Accord. While most people are buying SUVs/hatchbacks, there are some hot sedans still, and the Honda Accord is one of them. A slew of new safety, infotainment, technology and a new design to boot. No EPA or $ numbers, but you know Honda is going straight after Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata. Bring it on! All the better for us buyers, right? 


If you're going to Detroit, MI there is a new hotel; the Foundation hotel across from Cobo Center. It used to be the Firehouse. The hotel is okay, a 3 out of 5, but what makes that hotel are the people working it. What a delightful group they were, especially that young Bradley. He knocked on my doot - da da da da da, and I knocked back da da and opened the door, and he said, "In the three years that I have been doing that you are the first person to da da back." I'm happy to see Detroit coming back. 


We drove the 2017 Volkswagen Atlas this week. I have written about the Atlas and am including the review. Out the door the Atlas was $38,015. The EPA estimate is 18 city/25 highway/20 combined. 

Oh, some of you have asked about which cars sell the best and who is outselling who. My friend, Wayne Gerdes, collates all the information monthly; here are June's numbers.

Let's chat about cars


I have read that car makers have very high levels of unsold new cars in their inventories. Is this a good time to shop for a new car, especially in an unpopular styles like sedans or hatchbacks? What are the best sites to search for new car bargains? Thanks.

The only way I think you could find them is if someone published all the days on the lot by model month-over-month. I don't know a place that does that. I just asked and he doesn't do it - he just does a hot pick of the week. 

If you look at the monologue above you will see a link to his site with the June numbers 

Hi Lou Ann, I read your recent write up on the new Camry. I have kind of a specific question on the version that interests me, the hybrid. I noticed that only the lowest trim LE has the lithium ion battery. The higher trim model has the nickel-metal-hydride battery which is heavier and older technology and gets considerably lower mileage than the lithium battery. I would expect it to be the other way around. Any comment or explanation for why Toyota did this?

I remember asking a Toyota rep when they first started bringing out the L-ion why not all L-ion instead of some NiMH. He said that the brand is global and some of the vehicles that are sold globally can't use L-ion in some countries. I'm not sure why now, it made sense when he explained it. I will have to ask again. 

What happened to the chat? We missed you!

I missed you too! 

Our illustrious WAPO producers, Gene and Teddy, were on vacation - at the same time. We can't operate without them. 

We're back and they both have to clear any vacation time with me from now on! (JK) 

We're happy to be back. 

I think people forget electric cars come in two types, battery- and hydrogen-powered. Both have electric motors and emit no greenhouse gas. But one uses batteries to generate electricity, and the other uses hydrogen and a fuel cell. So far, batteries have a big lead. But I think in the end hydrogen will rule. First, manufacturing batteries creates more pollution than fuel cells and hydrogen. Second, it seems easier to adapt existing gas stations to hydrogen than to create a completely new network of charging stations. Replace the underground gasoline storage tanks with hydrogen tanks. All such gas storage tanks have to be replaced eventually in any event. Third, it takes far less time to "gas up" with hydrogen than charge up batteries, even with a Tesla Supercharger station. The British car show Top Gear (before the makeover with new hosts) did a segment on this. See I agree with their conclusions. What do you think? Have heard of any progress being made on hydrogen/fuel cell cars?

I think as we lean towards getting off the dependence of oil/gasoline energy will become more regional. Hydrogen is a viable unit. 

About 9 million metric tons of hydrogen are produced in the United States annually. Honda helped me figure out that the Clarity will use 200 kilograms per year per car. That would equal 45,000,000 cars that could be fueled for an entire year, driving 12,000 miles a year.

In an email conversation with Catherine Dunwoody, Chief, Fuel Cell Program, California Air Resources Board, I asked Dunwoody How long before the hydrogen highway gets back on track? “We are on track to have around 50 stations when the currently funded and in development stations are complete within the next two years or so. These are the full retail stations that will serve customers owning or leasing FCEVs from Hyundai, Toyota, and Honda, the first to come to market. We have a plan for at least 100 stations to meet projected FCEV customer demand and a second annual report on hydrogen and FCEV deployment“.

and lastly - some of the biggest polluters are trucks. 

A quick call to the Port of Los Angeles, CA told me that there were somewhere around 20,000 drayage trucks at the port. We did the math and figured out that one Drayage truck’s CO2 emissions is equal to 22 units of Passenger vehicle. Think about this, if you can change one drayage truck’s emissions it is equal to twenty-two cars of emissions! If you change them all, it is like putting 440,000 zero emission vehicles (ZEV) on the road. On average, a Drayage Truck CO2 emission is 60 tons per year. Any argument you use, the math proves that this is a good idea for reducing emissions.

So, while it may not happen quickly, regional energy changes are happening. Solar panels are popping up all over California; so much so that the electric companies are complaining. You would think that if they wanted to keep people hooked on electricity they would lower their rates, but no, that's not happening. 

Get clever people, I'm putting solar panels on and will have them paid off in 8 years. One less fixed expense when I'm older! 

I have heard it said that car reliability is much better overall compared to 15 or 20 years ago, and for that reason, reliability comparisons (such as those of Consumer Reports) are less important than they once were. Do you think there is anything to this point of view?

Reliability is better; otherwise, cars couldn't last longer than previous generations. Consumer Reports does more than just rate reliability. I happen to believe they are, in some cases, a better watchdog than NHTSA.  

Has there been any indication that any new MazdaSpeed models are coming in the future?

I sent a quick note to Mazda and this was their response, (thanks Jeremy) "No, no announcements about anything related to Mazdaspeed. We continue to monitor the market, but have no plans at this time to bring another Mazdaspeed-branded vehicle to the US."

Hi Lou Ann, When you were in Michigan did you attend the premiere of the Buick Regal (Opel Insignia)? Your thoughts?

No, I must have done something - again :) - I didn't get an invite to that program. 

My favorite Buick was the Verano, sadly it didn't sell well. The Regal is a good sedan, but like many sedans today it is going to have a hard time with sales. Everyone is in love with SUVs and hatchbacks. 

Lou Ann and Warren: I'll be in the market for a new car in a year or two. I've started my research, and have noticed that more and more cars are turbo-powered (I guess to allow smaller displacements). I'm old enough to remember the unreliability of turbos in the 1980s; is this still an issue with turbos? Even if not, are they more expensive to maintain? I keep my cars a long time (current vehicle is a 2003), so this is an important buying factor for me. Thanks!

The turbos of today are much better than previous generations, but check to see what type of fuel they require; many of them require premium, not regular. 

I haven't heard of them being more expensive, but it would make sense. 

Lou Ann, when are you going to be upgraded from "guest" to "co-host"?

Guests don't have to do the dishes after dinner :) 

What do you think about the new Chinese ownership of Lotus? Will it give the company some stability? I understand that a lot of their engineering consulting work went away while they were owned by Proton. The quote I heard was "nobody trusts the Malaysians." Is Chinese ownership going to be any better on that front?

The Chinese own Volvo and the brand is as solid as it ever has been; they are bringing out solid vehicles and each vehicle has a plug-in hybrid variant. The Chinese are as pro-electric/no-oil/gasoline as California and the Paris agreement are, so you will see more phevs and EVs coming out of China. 

Lotus needed a home, it's the only home that made sense. 

What kind of effect does the imported auto industry has in the US economy?

It evolves - I was at the Honda event and my colleague, Doron Levin, told the President of Honda that life changed for the Big 3 in 1984 when the first Honda came off the production line in America. It seems today we are coming full circle with people buying more SUVs and less small cars. 

There are imports and those import companies are making cars in the United States and exporting them to other countries which helps our trade deficit. 

Trading in NAFTA helps the US as well; I heard on the John Batchelor radio show the other day that combined NAFTA has five times as much oil as OPEC does. 

There are a lot of moving parts to the US economy. 

"The Regal is a good sedan, but like many sedans today it is going to have a hard time with sales. Everyone is in love with SUVs and hatchbacks. " that must be why the new Regal is a hatch or wagon only--no sedan!

Did I mention they didn't invite me? 

I like the idea of fuel cells, but let's remember they're not a panacea. The generation process of H2 takes twice as much energy as you can possibly get back. The fuel cells themselves are very expensive and loaded with heavy metals. Are they still very much in the development phase. I think the no-free lunch theorem still applies.

I like to think of it as the early stages of a new approach. 

Fuel cells are expensive, but they emit only water. California has awful air (especially with all the fires we have - and the fact that they still allow people to burn their leaves in Placer County - and you probably didn't hear about it, but the fire that was started in Auburn yesterday was because a teenage was smoking pot!) so fuel cells would help with cleaner air. 

If we stop brining barges of oil over from different countries we will have to cadmium from the Congo, other metals from other places. Unless we find new technology. 

It is the idea of exploring new ways of mobility that excites me, new technology, new energy. 



Hi there. I know when the turbo 4 ECOBOOST came out at first, people seemed unsure about it in terms of MPG and reliability. Specifically talking about the 2.0T in the Fusion Titanium, not the smaller 1.5. Has the 2.0T Ecoboost turned out to be a reliable unit? It's in the Fusion, Escape, Lincolns, and even the Edge, Explorer, too I think. I'm wondering if it's as solid as the other 2.0 Turbos out there from BMW, MB, Audi/VW, Hyundai, etc.

I wouldn't have the data on those metrics. I'm not sure who would. I can ask a friend at Consumer Reports who might have that data. If I can find out I will post it later here or on next week's chat. 

I've noticed a number of questions lately asking about car choices for people with (or expecting) babies. No matter what vehicle you're looking at, the most important thing to do is to take a baby/toddler car seat with you when you're car shopping to see how (if) it fits in the back, how much room there would be for others with the car seat in place, etc. You don't even need to actually install the seat - just putting it in place will give you all the information you need, and you will likely be very surprised at the result. You will likely be especially surprised at just how much less room there is in the back seat of that CRV/CX-5/Escape/etc than you thought there was. I offer this based on our own experience over the years with five kids (and our own constant amazement at just how big and bulky those kids' car seats can be when it comes time to install them)

That is such a great idea! Thank you for the suggestion. 

I think anyone that has children ought to buy a car with a backup camera. I know they will be standard soon - thanks to the efforts of but there are many used cars that don't have them. 

Great suggestion, thank you

Buick, where's the love for Lou Ann?

Exactly! Every week (except for the next month because I tweaked my back and can't travel) I go on an event. I go on these events and come back every Friday to report to all of you the new stuff going on in the industry. It's time consuming, but I love coming to you guys/gals every week with new and exciting info in the industry. 

Every week Stretch and I drive a new car at home. He takes the pictures of the car (that you see at the top) and makes a collage. He gives me his input and together we report on that vehicle. 

Loving you back! 

Thanks everyone for chatting today. I've got one question unanswered that I will find the answer to and post next week. If you have other questions during the week email me at lou at drivingthenation dot com

And remember 

Never drive faster than your Angel can fly. 

much love, 


Lou Ann Which of those cars would you choose if you were interested in fuel economy but want a little pep. (no family to haul, everyone under 6 feet tall) Would love a volt, but charging stations aren't numerous. Thanks!

For pep, I would look at the Toyota CHR, Mazda 3, Civic Type R

For fuel economy, I would look at the 2018 Toyota Camry hybrid (50mpg) Volt PHEV 2nd generation or Prius PHEV 

Even if you can't always plug-in you can still use gasoline on a PHEV. A volt owner is using about 8 gallons of gas a month; a 20mpg sedan uses about 35 gallons of gas a month. 

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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