Real Wheels Live

Apr 18, 2014

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 and New York City!

The mood of the New York show wasgood, but there weren't that many journalists at the show. New York is the home of the fashion industry and the last U.S. show of the year so the show is more like a party with lots of news but lots of night time lifestyle parties as well. It's more about lifestyle entertainment so you have Ford celebrating the Mustang's 50th anniversary by cutting a Mustang in 7 pieces in order to get it on the elevator to get it to the top of the Empire State Building which is where the first Mustang was unveiled.

General Motors showed off their new 2015 Corvette Z06 convertible and Chevy Trax, a compact SUV that will be coming to America standard with backup camera. Barra was there and answered all the recall answers - ad nauseum. All the behind the scenes chatter is that Akerson still knew about the impending recall issue and that is why he left, but Barra will do a better job at reconstructing General Motors anyway. There's a big difference between taking a company into bankruptcy and running an ongoing concern.

Barra knows the world is watching GM and said so at the Automotive Forum before the auto show.

Nissan hosted a party in the village in  a 5-story house. The front doors were funky pieces of plywood painted black but when you went through the doors it was a 13,000 square foot house requit with an indoor pool and a 900 square foot rooftop. Nissan sponsors a couple of food programs so it was only fitting to have Marc Murphy, one of Chopped's famous chefs, and a board member of City Harvest, Culintro and Passport NYC at the 92nd Street Y Culinary Camp fixing the food.

McLaren showed off their new 650S that you can own for a mere $265,500

Fiat Chrysler showed off the most product including the Alfa Rome C that they say will becoming to the United States. Expect fiat Chrysler to bring their IPO out within the year. You don't bring that much product out in one setting, in the heart of the banking world, in the heart of Wall Street where all the investors are and not think IPO.

I was on the John Batchelor radio show last night in studio at WABC and they video'd John and myself. You can see the piece at

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Lou Ann Hammond

From the NY auto show? Thanks.

Good morning

I just put up my monologue talking about the New York auto show. Little fun bits like Swavroski crystals in the Mercedes S63 AMG headlights in the 2015 model, you can lease a Smart car for $99 a month. The biggest piece is that I think Fiat Chrysler will be bringing out an IPO soon. You don't bring out that much product in the heart of Wall Street/investors and not think that way

How can I find out the dealer's cost for an auto? My research tells me the average is about $4K under the sticker price. gives you a great idea of what the average price is that others are paying for that car in your area, the invoice and the MSRP. Remember, you may have different options on your car than others, but that will give you a good idea.

Do you have a recommendation in NVA to get a replacement windshield for a Toyota Sienna Minivan? Thanks.

Can you go to a pick and pull, a place where cars have been in accidents?

I skipped the parties and was actually disinvited from one, Rolls Royce. It seems as though RR wasn't feting automotive journalists. The company's spokes-people said their party was for lifestyle journalists. I imagine lifestyle journalists to be people who take seriously the thread count in sheets. I am not one of them. No matter. I had great interviews with a number of ceos. Let's talk.

Warren, I'm curious about your thoughts on the plans for HOT lanes on the 14th Street bridge. One can only assume this is a revenue generator first and a traffic mitigation plan, second. If traffic mitigation was the top priority, then the hybrid exemption would be removed and the HOV hours extended. Before the HOT lanes are built. As it stands you can not ride the HOV lanes in at 9:00am, work an 8 hour day, including a lunch, and make it back to the HOV lanes by 6:00pm, not with the traffic on 14th. Thanks in advance, Fairfax Station

Politics and money all for the good of the country :)

I think you have a good point, the question is - how do you get that point in front of the powers that be before they decide to do the HOT lanes?

Where did this slew of new supercar manufacturers come from over the past decade or so? I'm thinking of Koenigsegg, Pagani, and the like. How do the economics work for these companies? Sure the cars are expensive, but so is hiring good engineering talent and without a lot of volume to spread that over. And the market seems highly volatile. All the old post-WWII manufacturers have ended up tied to a larger parent... Porsche, Lamborghini, and Bugatti to VW, Ferrari to Fiat, Lotus to Proton...

The market for those - including McLaren who just showed their 650S for $265,000 starting price - isn't as volatile as you would think. People who have money will spend that money on exclusive products and those companies can afford to buy the best engineers etc knowing this.

I put a video of the mcLaren 650s on Like me on facebook Go there and tell me, if you were a millionare and could buy one of only 1,400 of these made, would you?

You asked last week if I considered the Prius when I bought the 2013 Impreza. I did, but I bought the Impreza lightly used (dealer owned, <6000 miles), so I got it for less than I could find a comparable Prius. By the time I buy my next car (if the past is any indication, I'll be in the market in 2029), I hope that I'll be able to get more like 100 mpg, or preferably, run on solar power.

That would be my goal, get as many people on solar, hydrogen etc and sell the other energies to europe and squeeze out russia :)

Hi Warren, Based on your recommendation, we just purchased a MB ML 350 Bluetec. This is my first diesel vehicle. Can you tell me if there is a difference between Diesel brands? Specifically, is Exxon better than Shell or non-name brands? Is it important to use the same brand? Also, what's the story on biodiesel vs #2? Should you stick with one or the other? Thanks for your help!

Just pay attention to low-sulfur diesel, which Bluetec and other refined diesel engines need. Low-sulfur is 15 parts per million, generally available all ove the United States. I'm happy with the British Petroleum brand.

Hi Warren and Lou Ann, Last week someone asked about diesels and you said that we should see more diesel options in 2015. What makes and models do you believe will hit the market in diesel at that point? Thanks!

The Germans will lead the diesel parade, primarily Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, BMW. GM will offer diesels, too, Check out the diesel Cruze. Also Fiat/Chrysler. Just go online and look at KBB. com, edmunds.comfor various diesel offerings by different manufacturers.

I like the McLaren 650S just fine. I guess we're assuming I couldn't swing a P1 in this fantasy world. But I'm crazy enough to probably choose an Ariel Atom first. Then I'd have to try to talk the Mercedes Museum out of one of their C111s. Unfortunately none of these are serious options.

Ahhh - you are what we call an aspirational buyer. You start with the car you can afford, as you make more money you buy a better car, if look at the "way out of your range" cars and think, if I won the lottery... It's okay, we all have the car we would buy if we could.

It's kind of like looking at the rag mags (US, people etc) and deciding which actor/actress you would date :)

Should I buy? I am confused by the multiple models, including the differences if any between the 650S and the Mp4/12c, both of which seem to be in the same ballpark in terms of price and performance. And should McLaren's woeful start to a second Formula 1 season in a row deter me from getting a 650S?

I'm sure the outcome would have been better If only you were the F1 driver :) You see, you've got to up your thinking, your game, if you're going to look at cars like the McLaren.

I have this theory, largely put into relief by last week's ephiphanic  disinvitation to a Rolls Royve luncheon, because I am a business/automotive writer instead of one of RR's favored "lifestyle" journalists. My theory is this: Luxury is growing less meaningful primarily because technology is making luxury available to almost everyone at affordable costs. The Hyundai Sonata carries almost as much technology, if not more, than Rolls Royce for a fraction of the cost. So, of course, RR is going to market "lifestyle." It has no technological advantage to sell anything else. But what happens when most of us start ignoring lifestyle in favor of value and technological progress? RR tea parties?

In the market for a new sedan. Have test driven some used sedans of a particular make and model which I like an awful lot. Now the dilemna -- the new 2015 model has a lot of safety features that aren't on the two year old model. With a difference in price of $10-$15K it makes it somewhat difficult to decide what premium to put on those items. Thoughts?

I'd go for the 2015, probably Hyundai or Kia, assuming you want all of the latest advanced technology at a lower price. Or look at VW, Honda, which now are packaging advanced safety technology in a way that makes more financial sense to consumers. If you are looking for value, beware of thd options houses, such as BMW. Great cars, but they will nickel and dime you to death on options.

I was driving home from the weekly Cars and Coffee when I heard a huge roar and an orange McLaren spyder (which had been at the C&C) came flying by. He tucked in front of me and I saw something fly up from the back deck. I thought a piece was coming off the car but then I remembered that it has an air brake to slow the car and add downforce under braking. It is an impressive piece of machinery for $250K or however much it cost.

On what road was that?

Lou Ann here:

Isn't that amazing? What's funny is that the MINI coupe has a spoiler that will come out of the back at a certain speed - I think 35mph - or you can manually do it as well.

So, if you're in a MINI and a McLaren is behind you...

What is your reaction to the new Camry? Much ado about nothing or were there significant improvements?

It is about time that Toyota realized that practicality and style are not mutually opposed concepts. The new Camry...and Corolla...recognize that.

Yes, Hyundai can include many of the same do-dads and technology thingabobs in their cars as other luxury brands, but that doesn't necessary make the cars equivalents. There is something to be said for attention to details that you can only get from a real luxury brand. The way a door 'thunks' closed and the feel of the leather seams on your steering wheel and seats. Some companies do this better than others. For example, GM is notorious for missing the boat on fit & finish and everything ends up feeling plastic. In the end, for some people, cars are mere utilitarian objects to go from point A to point B. For others, cars embody a certain aesthetic experience similar to fine art. You either feel one way or the other. No one is right or wrong.

Yeah, well, and who says Hyundai and Kia do not pay attention to detail?Their doors thunk just fine and for a hell of a lot less money. Both have crash safety ratings that rival those of their supposed betters. Technology IS eroding traditional concepts of luxury. Common sense argues against paying more for some illusory concept of prestige. Does a Rolex keep $5,000 more better time than Timex? Really?

I agree with Warren on this one -- if you look at most auto ads on TV these days, they show all kinds of lifestyle things, flashy with music and all kinds of other things, but the auto is just an afterthought. I look at those and think, what about the car (or truck or SUV)....

Trust me, there are thousands, no millions, of dollars of car company money put into the psycographics of how you think and whether you want to buy a car because people are having a great time and being who you want to be or whether they want to really think about their life.

It reminds me of the yong girl on a late night show (I want to say it was Johnny Carson) when he asked her what she would like to have and she said a tampon. Preplexed he asked her why, she answered, because I could go swimming, and horse back riding...:)

It's the advertising

Hi Warren and Lou Ann, with an expanding family we are looking into an Enclave as an alternative to mini-vans (third row is needed). I was considering a '12 Leather trim because it has the (rear view camera), yet '13 has blind spot, while '14 has forward collision. My question, which safety features would you consider required for a new purchase, and which are simply nice? Thanks

Blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, rearview camera especially in something as large as an Enclave. Press the dealer for a deal on forward-collision warning, even if that means signing a post-warranty service contract with the dealership.

Lou Ann here:

Don't - PLEASE - don't buy that car without a rear view camera with sensors. Two children every week die because people are backing up and run over them because they can't see them. It will be mandatory in 2018, but you can buy it today

Hi Warren and Lou Ann, As I read today's chat the following idea percolated with my morning coffee. Between last week's chatter comment regarding less technical features (bluetooth integration, navigation) and more cars to drive and Warren's dis-invitation to RR in NYC, I cannot help but wonder if the mechanical soundness of car design and engineering is full understoood while the integration of technology is just coming into maturity. Perhaps it's reductionist thinking on my part but given the safety regulations and improved manufacturing techniques cars are becoming more personal, i.e. "lifestyle", and less about mechanical soundness. What features does the consumer need that compliments their lifestyle rather than worrying about overall engine function, maintenance and a general improvement in overall reliability. Thanks from the PNW.

I humbly disagree. Despite the recent spate of GM and Toyota recalls, cars acually are becoming more grounded technically, mechanically. I'd argue that technological progress facillitates lifestyle editing in cars and everything else.

Warren: I listened to most of Barra's testimony about ignition switches. As one who rents cars, I kept wondering if the committee had any information about accidents in rental cars and more importantly how can one rent a car and just have the key! Every car I have rented has a heavy tag plus the second key. I realize that the big rental car companies have mostly push button by now but what about all of the smaller "rent a wreck" mom and pop companies?

Great question and I don't think I've heard anyone ask it, but remember, these cars are older, the rental companies wouldn't have them in stock anymore. They typically keep a car for a year or two and auction them off.

Any chance you saw it at the NY auto show, will it compete with best and expected mags?

I missed that one. Will go back and check. Thanks for the heads-up.

Darn autocorrect! Meant to say what is the expected MPGs?

While walking around my local BMW dealer lot the 3 series GT caught my eye (2011). What do either of you think of it? As someone who lives and plays in the mountains year round the ability to carry 4 people easily or 2 with lots of gear while still fun to drive intrigues me. What are your thoughts on the vehicle?

I love the 3-Series GT, M4 435i, in fact, almost all things BMW. Let's face it, the company knows how to put together a thoroughly enjoyable driver's car. I just wish it weren't so darned options crazy. BMW would totally kick sales tail, even at a higher price, if it standardized more stuff.

Agreed. People still want them. At a huge profit. But every exotic car company depends on sales of lesser wheels to stay alive. Bugatti needs VW. Jaguar/Land Rover needs Tata. The watch industry could not survive without the Timexes of the world. Meanwhile, barely 5 percent of the world's population can afford RR..and that share is dropping. Lifestyle, my tail.

Warren: You ask (rhetorically): "Does a Rolex keep $5,000 more better time than Timex? Really?" And, yet, Rolex continues to sell watches at significant profit. True, no one needs a Rolex, or an S-class, or a Porsche or a Ferrari, but people still want them and enjoy them and when that Hyundai has been scrapped their owners will still be enjoying them

Warren has a good point if he were to compare a BMW technology and Rolls-Royce because RR uses BMW technology. Comparing a timex and a Rolex is different than comparing a Rolex and a Patek Phillipe to a Ferrari or McLaren would be more realistic, because those watches can cost more than a car. It's the lifestyle that people that have money know.


Thanks for joining us today. Please return next week. Many thanks to Angela Wong, Lou Ann Hammond, Michelle Dawson. Blessed Passover. Happy Easter. 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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