Real Wheels Live

Nov 02, 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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Here's hoping that those of you affected by Tropical Storm Sandy are recovering as well as you can. We just had downed branches and power outages in my neck of Northern Virginia. We seem to be okay, now.

Unfortunately, not all dealers in Delaware, New Jersey and New York were able to move there cars and trucks to higher ground. As a result, we are keeping a watch on reports of water-damaged vehicles coming from those areas. We trust that most people will play fair in sales of water logged fleets--telling consumers up front what they are buying and making reasonable sales price adjustments.

On another note, small-car sales are boooming. Sales of the little Merecedes-Benz sponsored Smart are up 205 percent in October. Fiat, which had a slow start in the US market, is up 89 percent. Let's talk.

Hello Warren and friends

I test drove the all new 2013 Volkswagen Jetta hybrid and loved it. I got over 40 mpg at 8,580 altitude and wasn't babying it at all. If you're not sold on diesel, look to the Jetta hybrid when it comes out. Volkswagen's sales increased 22.4% over last month, 35.6 percent increase year-to-date. Best October ever for Passat and Tiguan with 8,355 and 2,752 units sold respectively. Jetta's sales for October were 11,253 units

I'm in Detroit today talking cars with Chrysler group. They were up 10% last month, with Dodge having a great month. And no, Jeeps are not going to be made in China and exported to the United States. Any Jeeps made in China will be sold in China.

Let's talk cars

If you run out of gas in a traditional (I almost said "normal") car, you can walk to a gas station and bring back a can, or call somebody to bring one to you. If you run out of juice in an all-electric car, what happens? Can a service truck provide a quick charge? Or do you have to be towed to a charging station and wait hours?

All-electric cars are not sold as long-distance runners.   They are expressly meant for commutes of  40-60 miles total on a single charge. Presumably, all-electric buyers know that and will plan their driving accordingly. Otherwise, I suppose, you call a tow truck.

Are there cost-effective quality hybrid or electric cars or do you pay a premium to be more environmentally conscious? Do you recommend any of them for families with long work commutes?

Do you want to be off the dependence of foreign oil until you have to go over 15 miles, or 35 miles? I did a piece for KCRA in Sacramento about the difference between an electric, or a Chevy Volt or a Toyota Plug-in Prius

Look at the charts and you will see the breakdown between 50 miles and 100 miles of driving.

Email back if you have more questions.

Cost-effectiveness depends on current gasoline prices, which fluctuate. At any rate, it will take you a couple of years to recoupe the extra $3,000 to $6,000 (depending on model) you pay for gas-electric hybrids. So, yes, you are paying a premium to be more environmentally friendly. We thank you.

The best family hybrids are from Toyota (Prius and Camry), Ford (Fusion), GM ((Chevrolet Volt). My favorite is the Volt because you can run all week on no gasoline and easily do a trip of several hundred miles thanks to a gasoline fueled engine/generator.


Lou Ann & Warren, Road & Track and Car & Driver both like the Cadillac ATS, but still rank it behind the new model of the BMW 328i. Have either of you driven the new ATS with the 2.0 turbo? If so, how do you think it compares to the 328i...and to the Buick Regal GS (Yes, I know the GS is FWD)? Finally, does any dealer on the East Coast have one of these cars with a manual tranny for me to test drive? I've looked at the inventories online and can't find any, even though the manufacturers make 6-speed manual versions.

Both the BMW 3-series and Cadillac ATS are on the North American Car of the Year (NACTOY).

BMW has a long history of ride and handling that is hard to beat, but the ATS is making customers take a second look. the turbo is great, no lag.

Here's me going around a track in Atlanta in the ATS

and me going around Laguna Seca with Joey Hand in a BMW 335

Several chats ago, someone asked if electric cars are more environmentally sound than internal combustion engines, or is the source just moved. A dozen years or so ago, I posed the same question to the late Noel Perrin, an Environmental Studies professor emeritus and early adopter of an electric car, which he wrote about in a book, Solo: Life with an Electric Car (1992). As any good professor would do, he made me do my homework. We went over the numbers together and came up with the answer; it depends. Specifically, it depends on where you usually plug in your car and the source of the electricity coming to that outlet. The numbers have probably changed since then, but at that time, you were better off, from an environmental standpoint, driving an efficient gas engine car if you lived in Northern Virginia. Ned lived in Vermont where a significant percentage of the electricity comes from the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant and from hydroelectric dams, so his use of the electric car made sense.

Mr. Perrin is right if you're looking at a well-to-wheel basis, including where the energy comes from and how it is made.

People don't like nuclear because of the melt-down issues and the plutonium issues. If any of our readers know much about using thorium instead of uranium I'd like to hear from them.

Did you consider well-to-wheel if you used solar energy?

Here's Bill Reinert, Toyota, talking about well-to-wheel

That is what CR found among its self-selected interviewees, who are CR readers and subscribers and longtime loyal buyers of all cars Japanese. I disagree. Recent, public evidence indicates that the Japanese (Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi and sometimes Honda) make as many mistakes as anyone else. Duhh. They are human, too.

Overall global vehicle quality has improved greatly. Still, there is no such thing as "perfect."

Lou Ann and Warren, Hello there. Poking around online and there are suggestions that the price of gas might double in the next 10 years. I keep my vehicles for ten years. My next one might be a Sienna/Odyssey size minivan (have an old Sienna now) for comfort and flexibility -- going from Minneapolis to the east coast or the Rockies for example. If gas prices rise big time, what are your thoughts on a "long-term" vehicle for two adults, two children where most of the time is spent in town but three to four times a year we head out on the open road for long trips? Thank you.

I always say think of gasoline as the variable interest rate on your mortgage. Since I only take out a loan with a fixed interest rate you can see that I am conservative when it comes to the volatility of gasoline prices.

But I am also just as concerned with comfort and safety. You say you keep your cars for 10 years or more and that you have two children. Those children are going to get bigger and have more "stuff" in the next ten years.

If the only cost you have to take a trip is the extra price of gasoline I would look for a car with a bit more room for the furture growth of said children.

Your second car should be your commute car that is more gasoline conservative when the whole family is not in the car.

I survive my daily commutes thanks to books on CD, but the CD Player on my car seems to be acting up. For one book, half or more of the CDs will stick when I press the eject button (I think that is the right term to use.) The CD begins to eject and then goes back into the player. Sometimes, the CD moves far enough out of the player for me to grab and other times it doesn't. I can switch to a different book, and there will be no problems at all. I have seen some comments on one of the forums that say the thickness of the CD makes a big difference. A few of the CDs have been very, very difficult to remove. The way I see it, my options are to have the CD player replaced or get an external player and plug it into the audio input jack. Having a built in player that will automatically pause the CD when I switch to radio to hear the traffic report would be nice. What do you think?

The thickness, quality, and cleanliness of the CD (and your CD player) can make a difference. But, I must admit, I smiled when I read this. All of my electronic books and stored music are now on iPod or  info stick. I haven't used automotive CDs in year...largely for reasons akin to your complaint.

Hubby is disabled - ambulatory but with some mobility issues. It's his turn for a new car and he's thinking hybrid, but he needs a little extra trunk space for his mobility scooter. Your thoughts?

Are you looking for SUV hybrids? The Audi Q5 and VW Tiguan are hybrids.

Check out the Prius V hybrid wagon. My prayers and best wishes for you and your husband.

Warren, Lou Ann, Do you think that today's announcement of Hyundai/Kia's settlement for inflating MPG numbers on cars sold in the US will blunt the companies' sales in the future? Hyundai especially has made a meteoric rise by satisfying customers and building trust-- does one incident destroy all that?

There is more technology being brought out by Hyundai and Kia that will bring those numbers back up. I vaguely remember talking to someone at Hyundai/Kia and they said the percentage of warranty issues was so small that offering a 10 year 100,000 was a no brainer.

I don't think the Hyundai-Kia screw-up with mpg will hurt the duo's sales. They seem to have handled it in a straightforward manner--admitting fault and profusely apologizing for the error. The overall mileage difference--closer to 37 mpg instead of the advertised 40 mpg--isn't horrific. Also, there's this: The overall quality of Hyundai-Kia vehicles is real. The price of those models is super-competitive. Hyundai-Kia  just need to get rid of their current crop of distaff marketers, who seem carried away with a corporate success they had little to do with.

Warren - been looking for a SUV/Crossover that has good mileage but decent cargo space. Most of the ones Ive seen dont get very good mileage. But I think I read that the new XTERRA gets maybe 25mpg - can you confirm/deny?

On the Xterra, 25-28 mpg hwy is what I've hear. Have to check. But YOU should check out the 2013 Ford Escape--completely and excellently redone and about 3o mpg hwy.

I can't seem to find the answer to this on the Ford website.... but I think the plug-in focus is only available in certain states (NY, NJ and CA) at this time. If I'm in a different state, can my local dealer order one in for me, or do I need to go to NY or NJ and buy it there (which would make for a problem in getting it home, now that I think about it!).

Yes. It's called "dealer exchange" in the business. You might pay a tad more for the "exchange."

OK, I'm confused: what is a distaff marketer

Distaff marketers: Car companies routinely hire outside advertising agencies--distaff marketers--to push their products. Some of these agencies push too hard. Some don't push hard enough. Some give awfully bad advice. Others perform at the top of their game. Fire the bad ones.

Hi all! I am looking for a used, smallish SUV to use as both a replacement commuting car and a light-duty hauler of stuff and possibly a dog. My current vehicle is an Audi A4 Cabriolet w/90K miles and I'd like to make that my "fun" car. I really like the Ford Escape, have had several of them as rentals and they're quite comfy to drive (I'm 5 feet tall). I was thinking about getting the hybrid version except it doesn't exist for 2013 and I'm a little worried about buying a used hybrid. Can you put my fears to rest? I truly HATE the offerings from Honda & Toyota in this category but might consider Kia or Hyundai if their MPG would be comparable to the Escape hybrid.

I appreciate that you want to buy a hybrid for fuel savings.

Sometimes the market demand hans't been as great as the supply was thought to be. If that happens the manufacturer might decide to discontinue a product if it's not profitable.

The Ford Escape has been discontinued as a hybrid, but Ford is still around, they're still making Escapes and  they're still making hybrids. Those are all good things.

Hybrids and electrics, plug-ins, range extenders, whatever you call them - only amount to less than 3% of sales. Yet, according to bloomberg we are using less gasoline because of new technology, which includes these cars.

Buy the Escape hybrid - Ford will be here for quite sometime.

You might catch a break on a Hyundai Santa Fe, circa  2009-to-2012, which is being replaced by an all-new 2013 model. Or a Chevrolet Equinox used. Try those.

Warren, I'm a big fan of these chats and your reviews, but what was up with your Toyota Corolla review? The name of the car you were "reviewing" didn't appear until at least 2/3 of the way through the article and even then you could have substituted the name of any compact car in the review and it would have read exactly the same. What did you actually think of the car?

What I thought is what I wrote: It's a Point A-to-Point B  compact economy car that has been around for 40 years. It's reliable, well-made, but essentially boring, which is why so many rivals have surpassed it in likability, if not actual sales. It will improve in likability because it sells too well for Toyota to abandon it.

Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week. Our prayers and best wishes are with those adversely affected by Super Storm Sandy. Please check with the Red Cross, faith groups, and other relief agencies and organizations for ways to help. Thank you Dominique Vu, Lou Ann Hammond and Ria Manglapus for all you do  to make this place a success. 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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