Real Wheels Live

Mar 09, 2012

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown will be joined by Lou Ann Hammond to discuss the auto industry. Plus, they'll give purchase advice to readers.

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The global automobile industry is in a quandary. On one hand, it is under increasing governmental and regulatory pressure to come up with more fuel efficient cars with cleaner talpipes. On the other, it remains wedded to aging notions of the car as sleek power beast. The conflict is on ample display at the 82nd running of the Geneva Auto Show--high-horsepower bats such as the Bugatti Veyron and electrified fuel sippers everywhere. The betting is that the regulators will win. Let's talk.

Congratulations to the Chevy Volt/Opel Ampera for winning European Car of the Year. I am told it is the first time a car made in America, and sold in Europe has won the honors. And the Volt/Ampera really is Imported from Detroit.
Warren and I have been at the Geneva Motor show all week. Ask us what we liked, or didn't like.

We just purchased a new Odyssey and want to get an extended service contract. We cannot decide whether  to buy the Honda warranty or buy from a third party vendor. How can we compare and how do we know which third party vendors are reliable? A third party vendor allows you to use any licensed garage where the Honda warrenty requires you to go to a Honda dealer. Any suggestions?

You don't know if third-party vendors are reliable. The evidence is that too many of them aren't. As a rule, I'd stay away from them and buy from the manufacturer, which has a vested interest in satisfying the purchaser of a given company's products.

Warren and Lou Ann- I am looking for a sedan or wagon/hatch that gets better than 30MPG, is comfortable for a long commute (must have a center armrest!) and costs under $22,000 new or used. Extra points for long warranties. Currently considering Ford Fiesta/Focus, Chevy Sonic/Cruze, Hyundai Accent/Elantra or the Civics/Corollas etc. with less than 30k miles. Thanks to you both, you provide a great service!

Go with the Hyundai Elantra, starting at $15K+. Hard to beat in terms of fuel economy (29 mpg city/40 mpg highway) in that price range. If you want luxury, try the completely redesigned Azera for about $15 k more. Both come with the best warrantie in the buisness.

I would like to buy a convertible that will take two child safety seats in the rear. New or used under $30K. Thanks.

I'm trying to think of all the convertibles that fit four people

BMW     650i 6 Series Convertible
FIAT     500c     Softtop
Ford Mustang Convertible    
Mitsubishi     Eclipse Spyder     Softtop
Volkswagen Beetle Convertible
Volkswagen Eos

I read that Chrysler is going to implement more of its ZF 8 speed transmissions into more vehicles soon. Lexus, BMW and Mercedes already have 7 and 8 speed transmissions in some of their cars. Hyundai is developing a 10 speed tranny. Aren't these just inching towards the inevitable, CVTs with essentially infinite gear ratios?

Yes. The idea is to improve fuel economy by improving the gearing and thereby lessening the work engines must do. Lessen that work and improve fuel economy which is what CVTs (continuously variable transmissions with no fixed gear ratios) already do.

Any news scoop regarding Honda's currently missing 6 speed transmission in the Fit lineup?

That's coming, soon, probably for the 2013 model year. I wish I could say Honda were leading here. I can't. Everybody's doing it.

Do you have any thoughts on the Fisker/Consumer Reports embarrassment?

I just drove a Fisker Karma through the traffic of Los Angeles, the hills outside Los Angeles and back through the heart of Los Angeles. I drove it like any other car in a ride and drive.

All new technologies are going to have an issue, some are going to be known, some aren't. The first Volt I drove stopped when it ran out of electric mode. It had a full tank of gas, but a sensor wasn't working and it didn't register to go into gas mode.

We are sharing about 88 million barrels of oil a day with a billion cars in the world. The US has about 240,000,000 of those cars. By 2050 the International Transport Forum says we will have 2.5 billion cars on the road.Where will we get the gasoline for all those cars?

Advanced technology is in its infancy. I applaud Consumer Reports for letting us know the issues behind the advanced technology. I don't know what the problem is, but I like the idea of the Fisker Karma/chevy Volt/Opel Ampera technology.

The media need to grow do the public relations departments of most companies manufacturing electric cars. It's all new technology, which means there will be occasional problems. It's a natural part of technological development. It would be nice, and certainly more intelligent, if the media recognized as much and stopped its "sky is falling" coverage of every difficulty that develops. And it would make sense for the companies to just fix whatever needs fixing and move on.

Hi Warren and Lou Ann -- Any idea when the new Acura ILX will actually show up in dealers? My mom desperately wants to drive one (try finding any other 4-dr sedan with stick and leather/sunroof for under $30K) and see the real-world pricing. I've heard it was coming in the spring, and my flowers seem to think that spring has arrived. . . .

I am on a ride and drive in two weeks for that car, so spring will be about right. Email me at lou at after the 27th and I will let you know. Or just come back on the chat line after that and ask.

The media coverage from Geneva of the VW diesel hybrid is intriguing. I'm interested in both of your reactions to it--and your thoughts about whether we'll actually see a vehicle of this sort on the road anytime soon.

It's expensive. It's a great idea, but it's expensive.

Diesel vehicles are more expensive than gasoline vehicles in the United States. Hybrids are more expensive than regular gasoline vehicles. To add a hybrid diesel to the mix is going to be more expensive.

But just like I talked about with the Fisker Karma, advanced technology is what is going to help us get to 2050 with less gasoline. It's not that the United States is using more gasoline, the world is.

We are going to need to diversify.

You may have heard that General Motors just purchased 7% of PSA Peugeot/Citroen. Peugeot has a diesel hybrid. hmmm. Peugeot also has an electric bicycle and  Karl Stracke (Opel) talked about producing an electric bicycle for the Chinese market. hmmm.


Warren - Do you have an update on whether there will be a hybrid version of the next RAV4? Also, do you think Honda will produce a hybrid version of the CRV? I just read an article in Fortune Mag. online which slams Honda on producing bad products that few people want (i.e. ZDX, Crosstour, Ridgeline) and not "hybrdridizing" their cars like Toyota (even though they were first to produce a mass-market hybrid vehicle). In essence, they said "Honda should spend less time playing with robots and more time creating great cars again." However, I am a Honda loyalist. Charles in DC

Honda recently authored a list of "misses" including the Crosstour. I would not include the truck-like Ridgeline among those boo-boos. Most Ridgeline owners know what they've bought and like what they've bought. More hybrids? Yes. The same is true for all car manufacturers largely thanks to governmental and regulatory demands for better fuel economy and less air pollution. Honda will do whatever it needs to do to regain and maintain a successful corporate posture.

Mini Cooper has four seats, but I don't know about the child seats. We got ours when our kids were on boosters.

I was going to say MINI and forgot.

Anyone else? It's a small niche, so any help I can get from all of you is appreciated.

Are the Honda navigation and rear entertainment systems well-made, or should I spend less on a $200 Garmin and $200 portable DVD player?

The Honda systems are well-made, among the most intuitive and reliable in the business. But I'd spend less on the easir-to-update Garmin and be happy.

With the cost of exporting cars to the US and meeting all of the regulations of building cars to US safety standards, how is Hyundai/Kia able to load their cars with features but sell them at a lower price than the other manufacturers? Are their assembly line workers in S. Korea paid a "livable" or decent wage? I may have missed it but I've never seen that question asked in regards to the "value-packed" offerings from S. Korea. And yes, I do understand Americans' demands for low prices without regards of the sacrifices and exploitation of foreign workers to get them low and keep them low.

I think South Korea has as many problems with the unions (over wages, etc) as America and Europe.

Just like many other companies, Kia is producing cars in the United States, in Georgia at the KMMG plant. There are cars being built in Korea as well for the US market. I visited a couple of the plants, the Hwasung and Sohari plants, when I was in Korea last time.

I read the financial report for last year for Kia Corporation and a lot of appears to be excessive detail to the bottom line. Kia recycles everything it can. Kia has decreased the use of electricity in its plants. It owns, or partners, with every company it can. And it owns its own steel plant.

The workers in Georgia are paid commensurate  with other manufacturing plants in the United States. They are in Korea as well.

Warren/LouAnn: my wife and I will probably be in the market for another car shortly, as we've both gotten new jobs, our commuting patterns are substantially changed, and our family activities are starting to get to the point where having only one car really is starting to not be practical anymore. While I would normally be looking at a used car, I am seeing a lot of 2011s still on certain dealer lots. Would seem logical to me that the dealers would be willing to make some big deals on prices, down-payments, financing to move this inventory...right? BTW my current car is a 2005 Dodge Magnum with 92K that I love to death and am going to keep running as long as I can.

Here's the difference in the current retail environment and the pre-2008 environment; Most dealers and their suppliers are trying to avoid rebates and other spiffs. The suppliers are producing to market. The retailers are ordering only what they know they can sell. That means if they (the retailers0 have hard-to-move-stuff, such as leftover 2011 models, they are willing to sell at discounts. Better to sell than it is to continue tax payments and financing costs on unsold inventory.

Warren, Do you known when Jeep will put the 8spd slushbox in the GC? And when the diesel GC will be sold in the US. Time to replace the Element and since Honda dropped the Element need something to carry dogs and crates. Dumb move by Honda. Jeeps scare me since their reliability is no where near Honda. I had one issue with my Element a loose fog light wire. That's it. And sorry I have no confidence in FIAT and especially Sergio. He is a con artist and blow hard. I would really like a restored and repowered Land Rover Defender 110 from East Coast Rover. Check out their website but $140K is out of my price range. And recommendations for a Jeep dealer in NOVA/ Clifton VA

I took this question before I saw you wanted a dealer recommendation, but I have Warren for one.

I loved the Honda Element dog edition. I told Honda I thought they made a mistake by discontinuing it. Crazy.

Chrysler already has the 8-speed in the 300 and Charger, made by ZF. It would make sense to me that they would extend the 8-speed to a rear-wheel/all-wheel drive Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Diesel is a hallmark of Europe. Fiat would be smart to bring over all the diesel they can put in any Chrysler group product. Chrysler is saving Fiat right now.

My take on dealers - shop around, get a good price.

The Volvo C70 has four seats. You'd have to buy a used one to pay less than $30,000, though.

Another tip to our convertible reader with children.

Thanks everyone for all the help.

What do you think of the VW TIguan for a college student in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She will need to drive in the weather up there and will be driving from Ann Arbor to Home in DC. If not Tiguan (her heart's desire) any suggestions for a wagon/hatchback type of vehicle?

That works. Good quality. Reasonably safe. Good winter vehicle.

Do the math and see when you recoup the cost difference. Now the real hybrid technology is the gas engine/diesel engine hybrids that Mercedes, BMW and GM on working on. Think about an S class that gets high 30mpg on the highway. Now back in the mid 80's there was this company called Polimotor which was developing a ceramic and plastic engine. They used it to compete against the Porsche 962 in IMSA racing. Wonder what happened to that technology which would get gas mileage then any hybrid. Clifton, VA

You're right Clifton, advanced technology is more expensive. But cars are going to become more expensive even if they're not hybrid. Car companies are going to have to eek out every mile per gallon they can to get to the CAFE standards. That means implementing start/stop function, everything.

It will probably mean that people will hold onto their cars a little longer. In 2010 the average price of a car was $30,000. People are holding onto their cars for 11.1 years, according to Polk.

I talked to Scott Riches, a dealer in Plymouth, MI. He said that 95% of the people driving cars that are $40,000 (from his store) are leasing them. The Volt might sell for $40,000 but it leases for $395 a month. Your monthly payment would be more like $700 a month if you bought it.

We are in for interesting times.

Warren: Have you heard anything regarding a 2013 RAV4 HYBRID or a 2013 Lexus CX 300H? Thanks.

They should all hit the market by 2013. Hybridization is a good marketing tool in an era of high fuel prices in the U.S. I say the U.S. for a reason. Just left Western Europe where motorists were paying the U.S. equivalent of $8 a gallon for regular gasoline. Their vehicles of preference, under the circumstance, are advanced diesels...not hybrids.

You start your negotiations by offering them a $100 over what the wholesale value is for the car. You are going to take a big hit on depreciation when you sign the papers and drive it off the lot. You don't pay invoice or even 2% under invoice since in 120 days the 2013s will be rolling off the assembly lines. Clifton VA

Don't forget, you can negotiate for more than just cost.

You can negotiate for better service deals, a better trade-in,  a better finance rate.

And make sure you know your FICO, credit rating score before you start negotiating! Too many people rely on the car dealer to tell them what their score is. That score tells you what your finance rate is going to be.

Do your homework!

Baloney. You start your negotiations by knowing exactly what you can afford in terms of purchase, taxes and fees, and operating costs. That keeps you honest and the dealer honest, helps you to better separate wants from needs. If the dealer meets your price, you have a deal. If not, look for something more affordable or shop somewhere else. It's a media myth that there is some "secret" formula  for getting the best price. Ignore such advice and rely on common sense and product research.

I want to replace my Highlander but since 2001 they've gotten bigger and bigger. Is the Venza a good option?

No, but you are moving in the right direction. I'd look at the new Honda CR-V, which is much better designed than the Venza.

LouAnn - You forgot the best of the bunch...the Audi A5. You can fit 2 car seats comfortably in the back seat, and it has LATCH anchors. I wouldn't put 2 adult-siz men back there, but 2 kids in seats? Absolutely...though as with any 2-door car, getting the seats in there and getting the kids out can be challenging. The BMW 3-series is also a 4-seater.

I was looking mainly at four doors because of the hassle of putting children in a backseat with only two doors. But you are right.

Here is the complete list from today's conversation, courtesy of all the chatters;

Audi A5 convertible
BMW 3- Series convertible
BMW     650i 6 Series Convertible
FIAT     500c     Softtop
Ford Mustang Convertible     
MINI convertible
Mitsubishi     Eclipse Spyder     Softtop
Volkswagen Beetle Convertible
Volkswagen Eos
Volvo C70


Beware of the ones that come with run flats. They are very difficult if not impossible to obtain from sources other then your dealer. Run flats should be outlawed and banned. Clifton, VA

Not really, Clifton. Be aware that run-flats often have certain advantages--chief among them the ability to continue driving for about 50 miles at 50 mph enabling you to get to help/service safely. Run-flats do that work at a weight saving and presumed improvement in fuel economy. Common sense dictates that if you are intelligent enough to buy run-flats for reasons stated, you are smart enough to know how and where to replace them.

So glad to see that the average a person holds onto a car is over 11 years. I've had my car almost 12 and have suffered no old of grief from my family over not upgrading. It's time due to changing life circumstances, but I'm glad to hear that I'm not alone.

I have a 1993 Lexus LS400, beautiful car, just had to have a circuit board changed. $400. No payments since 1996. I'm good with that.

My neighbor has two cars in the 90s. No problems.

Mustang or Camaro V6.


Thank you for joining us today. Please come back next week when, I hope, Lou Ann and I will be able to tell you all about electric batteries and the companies making them. Thanks, Dominique, for another fine production. Thank you, Ria, for keeping the cars rolling. Eat lunch.

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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