Real Wheels Live

Sep 28, 2012

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown will discuss the auto industry. Plus, he'll give purchase advice to readers.

We're covering the auto industry from two sides of the world today. Warren is in Paris at the Mondial de l'Automobile, the 2012 Paris autoshow. We are expecting him to join us from there.
I attended a Chevy event where I got to drive the new 2013 models; the Spark, Sonic, and a Malibu with the new engine. All great cars that I think (once you drive them) you will want to buy them.
I also attended a Bosch event and got to see some of the new stuff they're coming out with for car manufacturers. I interviewed the President, Mike Mansuetti, of Bosch, a $72 billion global business. Did you know Bosch is a non-profit business? Me either.
I have to say the highlight of the day was having a student from Airport High School, Ron Fancsal, drive a Mercedes-Benz A-class car for me. The car had Bosch's automatic parallel parking in it. Ron had never experienced it before, so we video'd him parallel parking manually and then with the automated version. All the videos will go up on, but today let's get your questions answered.

I just returned from Russia, where I caught the Moscow show and saw lots of cars we don't get here. The experience raised some questions. Moscow has bad traffic and parking conditions and it is relatively expensive to own and operate a car there. On the other hand, Moscow has extensive, if often crowded, Metro, bus, trolley bus, and trolley services, so not many people really need to drive. Even with these conditions, Muscovites are buying cars in increasing numbers. If car ownership continues to rise in a place like this, what chance is there for convincing folks in D.C. to decrease their reliance on private automobiles? Is this such a matter of basic human nature that there is little hope of changing our habits? P.S. In Moscow, 28 Rubles, less than $1 will buy either 1 liter of regular gas or a ride anywhere in their Metro system.

Warren is in Paris at the auto show there. He could certainly give you the great example of Paris or London as places that have good metro systems and, yet, are completed exhausted in exhuast fumes.

Mobility is freedom. Metro transportation is socialized freedom for the masses. The more wealthy one is the more they want more personalized freedom, and the more they can afford it.

Globally, car ownership will continue to rise. It is one of the biggest discussions at the International Transportation forum that I attend in Germany every year. How do you change this paradigm?

Better metro service will help, but people want their own cars. They want the freedom to go anywhere, anytime.

There are many questions to be answered on this subject.

Back in December you gave the Malibu Eco high praise, complementing the looks of both the exterior and interior and even predicting that the Malibu might challenge the Camry for the sales lead. However, most car mags have panned the Eco including the Car and Driver Comparo placing the car last. Do you still feel strongly positive and how would you compare the Eco to the new Ford Fusion Hybrid. Thanks and I love your reviews and blog.

I have not read the car and driver piece. Car and driver does a good job with their comparisons.

Off the cuff I would say one reason they would ding the eco version would be the cost of that model compared to how much better the mileage would be versus the regular internal combustion engine (ICE).

The Ford Fusion hybrid will get 47/47/47 mpg. I just drove the car in Los Angeles. It not only gets great mileage, it's well priced, and it has great interior cabin space. You will like the design of it as well.

I've decided I'd like to buy a new Camry after driving some 2012's recently. Most automakers seem to be releasing 2013's, would there be any advantage to waiting until the 2013's come out? Do we know from Toyota when that might be?

There are some wonderful 2013 cars coming out, many of them are on the dealer's lots already.

I am on the North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY) jury and I have to say this year is one of the hardest to decide on the car of the year.

The Camry is good, look at the Altima, the Fusion, the Azera, the new Accord. Let me know which one you like.

I love my humble stick-shift 2007 Honda Fit. Base model: in good shape. But it was suggested to me that it screams "dork." I am middle-aged, single and wanting to date. If I pull up in this, do guys think "cheap nerd?" I could afford a 'better' ride but my paid-for car suits me.

Remember the old song, First I look at the purse?

I am always pleased when I hear my chatters are being fiscally responsible. I also have girlfriends who are single and know how much they long for a relationship.

At some point you're going to want a new car. Not now. Why don't you keep your car and make it a talking point on those dates? Just like you said here, you have the money to buy a new car, what would your date suggest you buy? You will learn a lot about cars and your date.

Greetings, question regarding CVTs. If most of my driving involves short trips of less than 15 miles with numerous red lights & stop signs, but not much heavy traffic (i.e., driving between stops generally reaches 5th gear), which option gives better gas mileage-- a CVT or an old-school manual? What about highway driving? just idle curiousity... Looking for an education!  Thanks for the column.

neither. A car with a start-stop system would be better. Bosch just showed me there start-stop system that, they say, in New York traffic gives you 15 percent better mpg. The Ford Fusion I just drove can be purchased with just the start-stop feature (for $295, I think) that will give you 3.5-10 percent better fuel economy.

Many manufacturers are coming out with just the start-stop feature that shuts off the engine at a stop sign (but if you have the air conditioner on it the engine will come on to regulate the temperature in the cabin, which will eat up your savings)

It's in many cars in Europe already. Expect to see it here.

One of the greats in print and TV journalism passed away yesterday. Chris Economaki. He was 91 yo. He was editor and publisher emeritus of National Speed Sport News and for many of we watched him on the Wide World of Sports and CBS. A great man and auto enthusiast. Anyone who currently writes about motor vehicles in any capacity owes him a debt of gratitude. He will be missed. Clifton, VA

Good morning Clifton,

I read that this morning. Thank you for the tribute.

I have a 1998 Chevrolet Cavalier, and I'm finally thinking of biting the bullet and getting a newer car--probably something smaller and more fuel-efficient. Since my current car isn't worth much, I'm thinking of holding on to it in case something happens to the new car or if I need to haul furniture or something big (which my old Chevy is surprisingly good at--something I learned after many college and apartment moves). I'm also sentimental about this car, since I've had it for over 12 years now. I'm just concerned about the cost of insuring mutliple cars when I'll really only be driving the new one every day. What would you advise?

Your a man aren't you? My husband has a 1974 Toyota Chinook in the back of our house and I swear he could have written this question.  :)

It's not the insurance cost, it will not be that much. You can also look at listing it as non-operative to save on dmv cost.

I can only sigh and shake my head. :) My husband, somehow, has been able to convince me to keep his piece of junk for that once a year haul he might do. And don't forget the sentimentality he has of the vehicle. :)

He keeps the car because it's not the hill I'm going to die on in terms of arguments. You would think it was the only asset he had in life when I bring up the fact that he could get rid of it.

Keep the car. sigh.

We just rented a 300 L from Alamo. A great riding car for four during our trip from Reno to San Francisco via Yosemite. However, the transmission shifter is like using a spoon in stirring a pot of fudge. What happened to that solid click when the driver selects gears. Has the car world changed again as I get older?

Greetings from the Mondial de le Automobile in Paris, where "solid clicks" rapidly are becoming a thing of the past, replaced by seven and eight-speed transmissions, concinuously variable transmissions, and automatics that are also manual. Sounds like you got a variant of a CVT,

Hi, Lou Ann and Warren: I saw pictures earlier this week of the Opel Adam, a microcar produced by GM's European unit. Any chance this car might come to this side of the pond? (

Raindrops keep falling on my head. (If someone doesn't know, it was raining in Paris when they showed the car)

Were those raindrops or tears, because Chevy says they're not bringing it over here.

Warren, Is the engine oriented N and S our E and W? Is it available with a low range like the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Is it avaible with out AWD and which wheels are driven?

Just gott moved from my Internet spot to another. Could you please repeat the question.

It is a transverse mounted engine, also known as east and west. Available with 4 wheel drive. Ford has Terrain management system, a dial that allows owners to choose between snow, mud, sand, etc. and the Explorer automatically adjusts the 4 wheel drive system to respond accordingly.

Thanks for the nudge that pushed us over the edge to buy the Mazda CX-5 in last week's chat. We bought one and we love it (of course, only driven about 50 miles thus far). You don't need to post this, I just wanted to say thanks! Mom-to-Be of Twins

I'm happy to post it, along with this: If you have any problems with your CX5, please contact me at, or Lou Ann at

What's your reaction to the recent Economist article on the decline of vehicle ownership and miles driven in developed countries?

The key is developed countries. If you have 300,000,000 people in the United States and 250,000,000 registered cars how many more cars can you have?

Miles driven

Look at my earlier post where they person wants to buy a new car but keep their older car. I have 3 cars in a two person household. Yes, each car may be driven less, but that is because I own more cars than people in one household.

You also have to wonder how they are deriving their miles calculations. Is it from the fuel pump? Are they able to calculate in the electric cars that don't require gasoline?

Have you seen a marked decrease in cars on the road? I haven't. Each car maybe driving less, though.

Lou Ann & Warren- After hankering for a Mini Cooper and deciding not to get one after all, I'm in love with the Audi TT. I know it's not the most practical car but hey, the kids are gone, I can afford it but still, a little voice is telling me that I should just go and buy a more practical car. What I'm mostly worried about is maintenance...I don't mind paying for it but not if it's on a monthly basis. Am I going to regret it? I'm looking at a new one or a 2010 or 2012 model. Please let me hear what you have to say about it..Thank you!

OMG, I love the Audi TTRS. If you have the money buy it.

I told the Audi guys if the TT RS were a man I'd be pregnant. You drive that car and you can't help but be in love.

Hi Warren, always appreciate your take on all things automotive. Curious to know what you're excited to see debut at the Paris Auto Show?

I am excited and put in a a special plea to Volvo today to please show at the Washington Auto Show in January its new V60 Diesel Hybrid, which is sold out globally for the 2013 model year andf is taking orders for model year 2014. Brief description: Can run 31 kilometers electric only; can run at about 45 -55 mpg combination diesel electric; can run at about 40 mpg, or less, in diesel hybrid "performance" mode. Really cool. Volvo says they really will try to show that one at the Washington Show,

When/where can I test drive one? I've been to 3 different dealers that are happy to take my order for the fantastically reviewed car, but none of them has one on the lot to test drive. I'm very interested in this car, and have already tested the 2013 Altima, so I'd like to be able to compare the 2 and make a decision be the end of October.

Oh I can't wait to hear from you after you tested the Fusion. The Altima and the Fusion are both great cars. I want to know how what you're going to buy and what pushed you over the edge.

We had Ford's Executive Director of North American Products, Frank Davis on the chat last week

He told us that they were just starting to get the Fusion in dealerships (as of last week). shouldn't be long, keep checking back.

Email me at lou at and let me know what you thought of both and why you ended up buying the one you do.

I'm very interested.

so Warren - what about the new Sonic will make us eager customers? Give a hint?

Super styling, improved hybrid technology, lots of infotainment/communications technology with hd backup camera. Hyundai, in fact, is one of the largest presenters at the Paris show--larger than BMW or any U.S.-based brand. Hyundai clearly is taking advantage of a troubled European economy by offering super-attractive, fuel-economical cars at a troubled-pocket price.

I wrote in last week about the poor fuel economy I've received from my 2012 GMC Traverse. You had asked me what the mileage was on the vehicle, and that the valves may not have seated. Well, my Traverse has 20k miles, and is just over a year old. As you can tell by the mileage, I drive it quite a bit, predominently on the highway (80 miles RT each day), and even on a recent trip to Canada, I only got 23 MPG. I've averaged 21 MPG since I purchased this hunk (the computer thinks I'm getting 26 MPG, but I fill the 18 gallon tank about every 350 miles). Is there perhaps a defect with the vehicle that can be repaired or qualify under the VA Lemon Law? The dealer routine maintenance has not noted anything wrong with the vehicle even though I've mentioned the poor fuel economy. The moral of my story is I will never EVER base a car purchase decision again based on MPG, unless a dealer is willing to let me test the car through a full tank of fuel. BTW, is there any dealer out there that would do that? Also, do you know of anyone that wants a guttless, gas guzzling 2012 GMC Traverse with 20k miles? This experience makes me never to want to purchase a GM product again because I have been betrayed by grossly over-estimated MPG data.

The e moral of your story is sensible, well-taken. I do wish that the manufacturers and the governments that regulate them would come up with more believable MPG tests. Right now, everybody seems to escape the truth with a "your mileage will vary proviso."

I've decided that I'd like to get a plug-in hybrid. My driving habits are such that I drive short distances on most days and could avoid the pump, but I want the gas engine backup for longer trips. Trying to decide between Volt and Plug-in Prius. (I don't want to wait for the Ford.) Which do you recommend?

Both cars are great, you'll love either. The difference is in how many miles you actually drive. I did a TV piece for KCRA in Sacramento.

What  the article shows is there is a big  difference if you go over 50 miles or 100 miles. At 35 miles per day you can use all electricity with the Volt, not the Prius.

At 50 miles you're going to have to use some gasoline with the Volt and about 35 miles of gasoline with the Prius, which is about 2/3 of a gallon for the prius (at 50mpg)

The big difference is the Volt takes Premium gasoline, the Prius takes regular.

I saw an ad yesterday touting Mercedes integrated internet system that allows you to update your facebook and view e-mail through the dash screen. Between that and the proliferation of touch screens in cars (HATE THEM), when will the line be drawn that delineates what should and should not be done while driving? No wonder the cars need to have so many active stopping and pedestrian sensors, people are too busy checking their Twitter and surfing the internet to drive!

I've been pondering that question. But the technology on parade here at the Paris Show, including that being offered by Mercedes-Benz, seems to indicate that such a line will never be drawn, that our entire concept of  "driving" is changing, that our entire concept of "car" is changing. "Driverless" cars are becoming a possible product segment being explored by major car companies. "Active stop technology," designed to prevent low-speed pedestrian collisions, is migrating from Volvo to its former partner, Ford. Self-parking cars have become a reality. I see no end,

I thought I was on the cutting edge buying a Volvo XC60 in 2011 with it's amazing City Safety system. As with everything in the auto industry, everyone is starting to copy the innovation. It seems that if you're willing to pony up, you can get you car to automatically stop for just about anything coming at you from any direction. With the advent of advanced cruise control, lane departure warnings, pedestrian detection, and other sensors, how much longer do you think it will be until someone builds the "car that drives itself"?

California just signed a law that says they can start testing driverless cars on the road.

In theater, a term used in combat in the military, there are vehicles that are driverless that go out in front of our military men and women. If that vehicle can drive safely, without getting blown up, the rest of the group will follow.

We ask people all the time - even though the car would cost more, would you be willing to let a car drive you to work, or wherever else you wanted to go. Older people tend to say no, younger teenagers tend to want it.

You see this happening, anecdotally, because young people think of their freedom as their iphone. The car companies know this and they are adding features because of it.

All the manufactureres are so convinced that Americans do not buy station wagons that they never try to sell them here. Acura sells one, but it's pricey, and the Ford Flex is really pricey. Would it hurt Mazda to import the new Mazda 6 wagon along with the sedan and test demand. I bought a new 1986 Ford Taurus wagon, and I think it may have outsold the sedan. It was better looking, too.

I raised that question here with Volvo and Mazda. Both seem to be changing their minds about the alleged U.S. reluctance to accept wagons. Proof will be if Volvo decides to actually show the latest version of the V60 wagon--diesel or petrol hybrid--at the Washington auto show. C1mon, Volvo!! Do it!!!

We looked at all the manufacturers and finally settled on the Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 2013.  Wow, what a piece of machinery; high quality everywhere, panoramic sunroof, AWD with no additional settings to set (convenient for my wife), 20 "wheels". Why are people always looking at Honda, Toyota, Nissan when Jeep has all that and more?

The Jeep Grand Cherokee is one of the cars Warren and I alway recommend. It's a great vehicle.

Some of it has to do with resale value. People know Honda, Toyota and Nissan have great resale value so they buy with that in mind.

As Jeeps resale value, and known quality, get more recognition more people will say Jeep as well.

Warren, What are your recommendations for an SUV of a size suitable for the needs of a family of four, yet with power and capabilities making it fun to sit behind the wheel? I know there are different price ranges out there, and I would be interested in your thoughts in each range.

If you don't need a rugged, truck-based SUV, don't get one. If you are comfortable with the idea of a car-basedSanta Fe. SUV, one with unitized body construction, your choices are many, including: the Mazda CX 7 and 9; the GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse; the Hyundai

A saw a TV ad for a BMW SUV smaller than the X3 (how that's possible I don't know). I haven't seen any on the road, so I have no way of telling how small this new model is. Comparitavely speaking, is it smaller than the Mazda CX5 and Nissan Rogue? When will we see some on the east coast?

Visually, because I failed to take notes on the actual numbers, it appears a bit smaller than the Mazda CX5. The reason is that European consumers and governments are beginning to demand better fuel economy and lower tailpipe emissions from their new vehicles.

I want to thank the members of the Washington Area New Automobile Dealers Association and the Washington City Council (Messrs. Evans and Catania) for joining us here in our appeal to the global car comes to show us more of their advanced products at the Washington Auto Show. We've been trying to impress upon them that the D.C. area holds seven of the richest areas in the country and SHOULD be treated accordingly. We've also reminded them that there is little they can sell in the United States without Washington's or California's regulatory approval. We've gotten promises. We'll see what happens.

Thanks to Dominique and Lou Ann for keeping things going. And thanks to Lady Ria for managing the cars in my absence. It's dinner time here, lunch time there. Bon appetit!

In This Chat
Warren Brown
Warren Brown has covered the cars industry for The Washington Post since 1982.

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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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