Real Wheels Live

Apr 12, 2013

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

Good morning Warren and friends

We are at a Fiat 500 EV event. Some of the information (the most important things, like price! are still embargoed, but I've got some folks that can answer the questions that aren't embargoed. Top on the list is Nicole Longhini product manager for 500e! Ask any questions you want and we'll answer the ones we can without breaking an embargo.

Let's chat about cars

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And the best-selling automotive brand in China is...? Buick. Beating out Volkswagen by about 6 percent in the last quarter.

And the best-selling brand in Russia, currently Europe's largest market for cars, is...? Ford. So much so that the Masters of the Oval are opening a Ford Explorer plant in the Republic of Tatarstan to build up Ford Explorer models from scratch to supply demand in the Russia.

And this: Japan is now part of a Pacific trade agreement with the U.S. Here's hoping that Japan also opens its market to us. Let's talk.

How cool is this? - I just found out that Nicole Longhini,product manager for 500e, worked at the National automotive center for the military (TARDEC) with hybrids and electric vehicles!

Nicole Longhini, product manager for Fiat's electric 500E. Truly shocking news. When, where, how much Ms Longhini.

Good morning - I have fallen in love with a 2012 Audi S5 coupe. If it make sense financially, wilI I regret buying it? Any sense of the antipicated reliabilty and maintenance expenses? (I had a BMW 545 before and it was a money pit (not helped by Baltimroe's crummy roads).) Thanks for your thoughts!

Reliability and service on the S5 should be okay, meaning you should not have any extraordinary problems in terms of maintenance and maintenance costs. Audi has been working hard to clean up that part of its business. But I'm sure you know that you are still looking at higher than normal repair costs.

How reliable are VWs? Are some models more reliable than others and would you recommend purchasing the TDI vs. the gasoline version? Thanks

They are all reliable, much more so than the previous years. TDI might cost more but you get better miles per gallon.

Hi Lou Ann (and Warren)! I love your wit and insight into the car world. However, I have a bone to pick with you based on a comment from last week's chat. You said "I believe there is an entertainment system in the honda Odyssey Touring Elite that is standard, not so in the MDX. I'm not sure you can get it in the MDX. If you have kids that is a big deal." No, it's not a big deal. Or, at least, it does not need to be (nor, in my opinion, should it be). I'm a 33-year-old mom of two and I hope to never have a TV in the car. We Americans are *always* on the go and car-time is often some of the only device-free time we can have with our kids. My 4-year-old knows how to get to his school via multiple routes (and was able to guide my friend there when her GPS failed her as my husband and I were in the hospital welcoming his little brother). He's aware of his surroundings and, more importantly, engaged with his fellow car-mates. I understand it might not be for everyone, but I'd rather hear "are we there yet" 5 zillion times if I also get to hear fantastic commentary of road conditions, radio playlists, and other random thoughts that enter his head. No, I'm not the perfect mom, nor do I claim to be, but I hate the thought of kids zoned out on TV screens when there is so much else to observe when in the car. Thanks for letting me vent! Again, I love your advice!

You area mom. That makes you perfect in my book. As for the Honda Elite entertainment system--yes, I'm sure that is an option. Get used to that sort of thing. Technology is changing the world. If your kids are not watching TV in car, they're probably reading an E-book, playing electronic games, or working their i{hones or Androids....or using their iPads to prep for a test.

Nicole Longhini,product manager for 500e, talking about the fiat 500 E, "it just happens to be electric. The Fiat 500 design is key to the car: Italian style, design, heritage. We just give more options in powertrains. California will be the biggest market because of the infrastructure. That's why we are selling only in California at the launch."

How can I find out the next year a vehicle model will be redesigned? I have a 2004 Honda Pilot and am interested in another Pilot, but would prefer to wait until the next redesign. Thanks!

Auto design cycles are shrinking. The companies seem to be coming up with something every 12 months. The Honda Pilot? My understanding is that we will have a "significant freshening" by 2014.

Warren talked about China - I just found out that the Jeep Cherokee will have its international premier at the Shanghai auto show next week.

Currently the State of Virginia has an exemption for hybrid cars on I-66 for those with a designated license plates before 2011. In the past, the exemption needed to be approved on an annual basis and now it has no termination date. Do you have any insight if there is legislation in place to remove the exemption?

Here's hoping that there is legislation afoot to move that silly exemption. It makes no sense.  HoV lanes were put in place to encourage car pooling. Exemptin a car because of its drive system defeats that purpose. Exemping a hybrid defeats the technology of a hybrid, which yield the best mpg gains in city traffic, not on a highway. I think such legislation is either afoot or awaiting implementation.

Fiat owner here. I like my Fiat a lot, and it has been totally reliable. On the other hand, I find it inexplicable that you are forcing us to choose between two unpalatable options: (i) a car that is underpowered for the American market (base 500), or (ii) cars that have adequate to great power (turbo, Abarth) but are unavailable with automatics. I love driving manuals, but when I have a daugher who is learning to drive and so an automatic was non-negotiable when I was buying this car. I would have bought an Abarth (or a turbo) in a second if it had been available with an automatic. You are really leaving money on the table not having one available, and no amount of cute commercials (the Fiats diving into the ocean and coming to America) can change that. It's great to have a hybrid etc but what you desparately need is to have an auto available in your higher-line cars. Thanks, I feel better now.

Nicole Longhini,product manager for 500e:

Thank you for being a Fiat 500 owner. We appreciate the feedback. We are a new brand to the market and we continue to expand our product portfolio and believe me we listen to customers like you and overall general public.

Hello, Warren: I keep my cars for a long time (10 years or more), and only put on 3,000 miles a year. I was thinking about replacing all 4 tires (they are 8 years old). The existing tires have good tread and even wear. Should I wait, or replace them now? Thank you.

Replae. There is more than one way for tires to wear out. Age is one of them. We humans get old and wrinkled. Tires get old and crack, somethimes dangerously.

Nicole Longhini,product manager for 500e:

the nice surprise for the 500E is you're at an 87 EPA estimated mile driving range - best in class! and it still kept the essence of the fun to drive with a 0-60 of 9.1 seconds

Many of us give Fiat credit for being straightforward about the fact that the 500E is a compliance car and not pretending otherwise, as other automakers do. But what's it going to take to actually get Fiat/Chrysler in the plug-in game for real? This is the only auto tech in 100 years where the expectation seems to be that the market consistently predates and exceeds product availability.

Most electrics are, at leastin some way, "compliance vehicles." Chrysler and other companies will start investing more in electrification when consumers and their politicians start taking electrification of automobiles seriously. That means, at least, market incentives and spending on infrastructure.

Lou Ann here:

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Now you know, you have to have supply before people demand something.

Nicole Longhini,product manager for 500e here:

The Fiat 500 starts out with a 40mpg vehicle, we have expanded our powertrain options with the Abarth (small performance vehicle - the most fuel-efficienct high performance vehicle in America!) and now we have the best in class 108mpge highway, 500E.

"I think such legislation is either afoot or awaiting implementation" What makes you believe that? I have seen nothing that indicates any proposed changes.

Google it. Such legislation was floating around Richmond three years ago. It disappeared. I lost track of it.

I am looking to buy a small SUV that offers good styling and power. I have been looking into Volkswagen Tiguan. Any other suggestions?

Dodge Durango, Jeep Cherokee (but I would go to the full Grand Cherokee because I love that vehicle)

Hyundai and Kia both have great little SUVs.

Wondering about Mini Cooper repairs/reliablity. I know Warren got rid of his but that's a sample size of one. Is there real data on their reliability/frequency of repair when compared to other compact and zippy cars?

The always ailing Mini Cooper still sits in my least for another four months. Check with Consumers Reports for a wider sampling of Mini experience and opinion.

Lou Ann here:

go to - it's the mini website that is fun and has lots of mini followers

On the other hand, please don't forget that there are those of us who love manual transmissions and are bummed that they are being relegated to the low end cars. 2 years ago we bought a Mazda5 because it was one of the few family haulers that came with a manual transmission. We wanted some additional options but couldn't get them because even Mazda didn't provide upgraded equipment packages with a manual transmission. Audi only makes manuals in their lower-powered cars (e.g., the 4 cyl turbo A4, the smaller-engined A5, etc.) There are still lots of people who love manual transmissions and wish we weren't being relegated to the "cheap seats." (For the record, we own 4 vehicles - 3 cars and a motorcycle. Not an automatic in sight.)

You are so European! I understand that in Europe and South America it is like 80% of people drive manuals.

Nicole Longhini,product manager for 500e:

The Fiat brand will continue to be true to its European traditions and offer maunal in all of its models, while also developing automatic transmissions that are right for the US customer.

Now that the Suburu BRZ and the Scion FRS have both been out a while, I'm wondering...what will the 2014 models of each bring?

They've only been out a few years, or less. Nothing stunningly different, yet.

I'm a mid-50 year old who has owned 3 Honda Accords in his life. My current one is 17 years old, and needs $3,000 or so of work. I am considering a new car, and want a reliable, comfortable, long-lasting car that gets great gas mileage. Would consider the plug-ins, but they seem way too expensive. Is the Prius the best option?

The Prius is a good option, particularly the Prius V which offers utility as well as fuel economy. It's reasonably affordable. Check Edmunds, Kbb, et al. Also, the Ford Fusion Hybrid, which has been getting good reviews.

Nicole Longhini,product manager for 500e has to start the product presentation now. Thanks for the questions.

Chat with all of you next week.

Thank you all for joining us today. Please return next week. Thanks to Lou Ann Hammond for the Fiat contribution and to Nicole Longhini for her participation. And thanks to Matt Monahan, our new producer, for putting up with and managing us through all of the technological changes going on in our shop. And, what would we do without Ria/ Not much. Eat lunch.

Hi, Warren, Lou Ann, and Nicole: Warren, where did your figures come from stating Buick was the No. 1 brand in China? I just tallied up the 2012 sales for China, and Volkswagen sold over 2 million cars versus 705,000 for Buick. At the same site, I tallied up sales through February, and Buick is at only 138,848 versus 408,881 for Volkswagen. Whose source is right? :) Garey, Ottawa

You tallied 2012? I was referring to most recent quarters. Check Automotive News Data Center.

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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