Real Wheels Live

Nov 30, 2012

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

I'm sitting in Cornwall, N.Y., overlooking the still-swollen Hudson River. Luckily, we're on the beautiful embrace of the Storm King Mountains, where Hurricane Sandy did relatively little damage. But Sandy wiped out many cars and trucks in the lowlands. As a result, US auto analysts are predicting a total of 15.8 million new cars and light trucks for 2012. That's up from an earlier predicted 15.2 million. What Sandy taketh away, Sandy giveth, it seems.

I'm sure we'll here from Lou Anne on the LA Auto show, currently in progress. Based on my monitoring via Internet, the LA Show is about MPG. Almost every manufacturer displaying there is offering products that cut fuel consumption, apparently all in an effort to reach a federally mandate new-vehicle sales fleet average of 54.5 milesper gallon by 2025.  There will be less emphasis on pure electrics--bater power only in meeting that goal. But hybrids and plug-in hybrids, now about 2.5 percent of the U.S. market, will continue to grow.

But leading the MPG charge will be more efficiently designed fossil-fuel engines, four cylinder and even three-cylinder models. Both the Germans and the Americans will introduce more new diesels. Lou Anne has the details.

LOL: Remember that Tiger Woods crash, the one in which he banged up a shiny new Cadillac Escalade fleeing from an angry wife? He did not own the Escalade. As part of his Buick advertising contract, he had the right to use a Buick product or Cadillac product for his persaonal driving. Much to the Chagrin of Buick's marketing people, he chose the big 'ol Cadillac Escalade. That disappointment turned to joy when Tiger crashed the Cadillac in his shameful flight. Cadillac was embarrassed. Now, Tiger advertises nothing GM. He lost that contract...and the wife. Life, I guess. Let's talk.

Good Morning Warren and friends,

We're back from Los Angeles auto show. You can find lots of information at
Some of my favorites were a Ford Fiesta 3 cylinder 2-liter that many of us got 50 miles per gallon. Chevy Spark is bringing out an EV with SIRI. Volkswagen and Mazda are bring out diesels, VW in the Beetle Convertible and Mazda in the Mazda6. Fiat is bringing out 5 models of the 500, including an electric vehicle.

Let's talk cars.

Hello looking for a christmas present.  Do you have suggestions for companies that offer car detailing in WDC area? Thank so much.  Doreen

Check the Washington Center for the Study of Services (publisher of Washington Consumer's Checkbook) for the best deals in terms of quality and price. Google "washington Consumer's Checkbook" for contact details.

If Fiat does this, good for them, but it won't be a first. The Panhard Dynamique (1934-37) and Panoramic (1936-40) had something similar:

And we thank you for that information.

My daughter and son-in-law are looking for a three row vehicle for their growing family, but they want one that has enough room behind the third row to fit a double stroller. They looked at SUVs and did not find any that fit that criteria. Are there any minivans that might have that much space behind the third row? Thanks Herndon

Good morning Herndon,

Hyundai just showed off their 3 row Santa Fe at the Los Angeles auto show. That's the only new 3 row I can think of.

Lou Ann might have other ideas. But my money says that the biggest and best in that category of crossover includes the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave.

Warren and Lou Ann, We have a TDI sport wagon and love it. It is time to trade in our other car, a Passat. We are leaning towards a Jetta sedan, but the fuel choice is undecided. Which would you recommend? Is it smarter to diversify fuel types? Have you driven the Jetta hybrid yet? Thank you for your help.

I don't think so. You love your diesel Jetta. You'll be just as pleased with another VW diesel product. Besides, I believe that diesel vehicles will bring a higher resale value.

Warren and Lou Ann, Please help me understand the difference between the Azera and Genesis [apart from the Azera's lower price, front-wheel drive (versus rear-wheel on the Genesis), and relatively smaller engine]. Certainly the better-appointed Azera's run into the same price range as the Genesis. I want a good (and good-looking) sedan. So why is Hyundai confusing me and which should I pick?

In which case, you should also consider the excellently executed Kia Optima, first cousin to the Azera. Both are Hyundai Motor Co.'s Buick. (Hyundai owns Kia). The Genesis is Hyundai's Cadillac.

Should the absence at the LA auto show this week of KIA's new 3-row Rondo / Carens, which debuted at Paris in September, be interpreted as confirmation that they do not intend to reintroduce it in the U.S. for 2013?

I think that's a fair bet. The Rondo was a sales flop in the US. It did well in Europe.

Hi Warren & Lou Ann! What are your favorite diesel cars under $30K (& available in US)?

Mine is the Vlkswagen Jetta TDi

Is the Tesla S that won Motor Trend Car of the Year a real car? That is, is it actually being produced and sold, or is it esentially a limited production concept car? Is the C-Max Hybrid actually going to be widely available and how does it compare to the Prius III?

I was in Los Angeles and saw a couple of them being driven around. I also just heard they were raising the price.

The C-Max is already being sold, in fact Ford told me that the C-Max outsold the Prius V last month.

The C-max is a 2.0-liter while the Prius III is a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder. It depends on what options you get how the two fare out, but they start out pretty equal in price. 

How is Ford doing in the California market? Seems to me with Jim Farley at the helm as marketing chief and soon as Executive VP, they should be progressing well. (From yoru friend John McCandless in Detroit.)

Hey, John. Both Ford and GM, and even Chrysler with its Ram trucks, are doing better in California. The maxim holds: It's the product, stupid. Better products equals better sales.

Hey John,

I miss seeing you. I had dinner with Farley while I was in Los Angeles. Farley is insightful, he understands the business and both he and Fields (new COO of Ford as of today) think California is critical to Ford. Point - The Ford Flex wasn't selling well in the United States, but it was going gang busters in CA. They kept the Flex because it was an inroad to California. They get it.

stay well. Thanks for chatting.

I have a 2003 Pontiac Vibe. Got it new back in 2002. It's been a decent car with only a few issues but I have a baby now and I'd like to get something new or newer especially if we decide to have another child and I need to put 2 carseats in the back. It's been so long since I shopped for a new car I don't even know where to start. What should I start looking at in that size range under $24,000? I'd be planning on keeping the next car another 10-12 years. I don't need a lot of fancy extras and our other vehicle is a minivan.

Congratulations on your new baby. Kindly have another. You'll appreciate them more the older you get. In the interim, consider the usual suspects: Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Toyota Rav-4, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape. Good luck.

Thank you! After doing my own research and asking questions of you and Lou Ann, I picked up a new 2013 Grand Cherokee a month ago.  Have since driven it to the midwest and back to DC, and I love this Jeep. Comfortable ride, less blind spots than the wagon I replaced, fold flat seats for dog crates. Miss the gas mileage of the smaller car but the tank capacity makes up for that. Will need to get a dog ramp soon, but that's easy. Also, the Chrysler U Connect is much easier to use than the Ford version in the Explorer we were considering. Thank you both for your reasoned advice.

Thank you.

Yes, we had to get a dog ramp awhile back. (You can get a durable one from Costco)

Cars are all about meeting the lifestyle you have. If you give us that information we can help.

Enjoy your new vehicle and your dog. Keep checking in.

Hi! How will these small engined cars do in 70+ mph highway situations in mountainous areas? My main long distance travel is 2 hours uphill (in both directions!) where it is very common to have to get back up to speed after dodging semis that wander out of the slow lane.

Quite well for most of them. I am a frequent traveler of the usually well-policed Interstate 87, where the average speed, nonetheless, usually exceeds 70 mph. The new four-cylinder jobs do quite well in that traffic. To get to our house here in Cornwall, NY, we have to climb the  steep Mine Hill Road, some 600 feet above sea-level, if I remember correctly. Most four-cylinder models, the new ones, handle that job quite well.

Have either of you driven the BMW 550? How does it stack up against the competition? Is it worth looking at the new 650 sedan?

Yes and Yes. I truly believe that all things BMW are worth the look. I haven't driven a bad one yet.

Lou Ann and Warren: What are the chances that Telsa will be around by this time next year? If you were the odds maker in Las Vegas, what would you give as the odds for Tesla to make it for 12 more months? John

It is the question that people asked at the auto show. It is my understanding that Tesla gets money for being around and producing beautiful electric vehicles. I was told by a California Air Resources Board person that other car companies buy clean credits from Tesla, a sort of cap and trade.

No one knows, but everyone wonders.

I'm still waiting for my local dealer to get the 2013 Fusions. They have a showroom model that they won't even let people test drive, and keep telling me it will only be another week or 2 (this was just after Labor Day). What is the problem with this car? Is there a production problem? Are there problems with the car itself that is causing it to be held back? How much longer should I wait before I just give up and buy a Buick Verano?

There is no problem with the car, per se. It's a popular brand, especially the 2013 model. I think Ford underestimated demand, which means waiting longer for production and distribution. It will come. My hunch is that your dealer is giving you honest arrival guesses that he/she shouldn't make.

Does a diesel car drive differently than the exact same car with a gas-powered engine? 

Yes, and what a wonderful difference it is! Substantially more torque, better mpg. Possibly slower starts in winter. But, overall, more fun to drive. And the new diesels are much cleaner and quieter than their predecessors.

I'm at a loss...After 6 months of testing, researching, and scouring, I'm finally ready to purchase my first new car in 8 years. During my search, I could not help but notice the scowls, rolled eyes, and snippy remarks from dealers and salespeople when I kindly explained that I was still in the midst of the evaluating different vehicles. Now that I'm finally ready to make my purchase, I happened to select a vehicle (Audi Q5) that only has 4 primary dealers in the DC area. I've been to both of the dealers within my state (don't want to name names here), and both act as if they're completely disinterested in selling me the vehicle that I want. From transportation fees (the options I want are not available on any inventory in the area) to dealer fees to nonsensical rigamarole, it's gotten ridiculous. I have explained to both dealers that I would be paying cash for the vehicle and that I would be fine waiting a few months to avoid paying the transfer fee if the vehicle has to be special ordered. It's not like I'm looking for any special treatment, just a fair deal without all of the dancing around. At the first dealer, I got all the way to the final signature when the dealer decided to plop an extra $500 transportation and labor fee on the invoice and an undercoating fee. When I questioned the charges I got the "you're crazy" look almost as if because I was purchasing a luxury brand a few hundred here or there shouldn't bother me. At the second dealer, I got nothing but blank stares and a complete inability to even consider special ordering the vehicle from the factory, as if the only vehicles they were allowed to sell were the ones on the lot. Why does purchasing a car have to be such a chore, and why don't luxury brands have any better service than the normal brands?

I was at an analyst meeting and John Humphreys from JD Power and Associates said that car dealers could make or break a car deal and that car dealers needed to step up their game.

I can tell you that Audi wants your car deal and that I will pass this chat onto my friend, Brad, after the chat. Email me lou at and I will try to help.

Luxury vehicles are very competitive. I was talking to Mark Templin, President of Lexus. On the back of his business card he says that if anyone knows of someone that is unhappy as an owner of a Lexus product he wants to know.

Buying a luxury car comes with a price tag, but it also comes with the benefit of a more personal service/touch.

email me.

Or was that some kind of campaign misstatement? who are these cars for?

Of course, tax dollars help build cars..and protect you in them. Governments worldwide greatly influence the design and engineering of cars in terms of safety, fuel economy, and emissions. To do that, governments need money. They get that money from you and me. Taxes.

Warren & Lou Ann, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts as to whether the relentless march toward better MPG has in any way compromised passenger safety by reducing vehicle weight or any other way. Thank you.

I don't think so. Car manufacturers are using lighter weight materials such a aluminum and carbon fiber (BMW owns part of a carbon fiber company in WA).And NHTSA is in constant communication with all car manufacturers about new safety regulations. Trust me, there are plenty coming down the pike.

What would compromise safety is the infotainment systems that are being put onboard cars. The GEN Y group wants that infotainment and won't buy a car without it. That is why Chevy is bringing out SIRI on the Spark and Sonic. Two small cars made for GEN Y. Voice activiation is going to be the key for all these cars.

That and more safety.

Warren, my wife is ready to abandon the minivan that she has had since the children were young. She doesn't want a new minivan but would like something with 3 rows of seats so she can cart around grandparents and the kids' friends. What do you think we should be considering? thanks!

Sje wants a crossover, which is a station wagon and minivan by another name. Just cooler in terms of image. My favorites in terms of best three-row comfort and versatility are the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Enclave (high cool factor), and Buick Enclave (luxury). But I notice that many women also prefer the Mazda CX-9.

I'd also add the Mazda5 to the list. We know it is not perfect, and wish the SkyActive package was available when we bought it, but we are extremely happy. We have had 4 adults, a toddler and a baby in the car little trouble. It even holds a double stroller with the rear seats down.

Yiu are right. We thank you.

I love my base 2007 Honda Fit, stick, and want another. They are hard to find. I like driving it, and I think I save money on gas. Is this true - the savings part? (Plus they are about $800 cheaper and I am saving for a trip to Asia and the Pacific.)

Yes, the fit has good fuel economy, surprising utility, and is fun to drive. Ask your dealer to do a "dealer exchange" if he/she can't find one locally.

Good morning- I'm blessed with a large family (wife, 3 small kids, big dog) but struggling with the desire for fuel efficient transportation. Minivans, including my current 2007 Kia Sedona, get such terrible gas mileage. Are you aware of anything on the horizon I should look out for that is both roomy yet efficient? Thank you.

Look at the new 3 row Hyundai Santa Fe long-wheelbase . It is powered by 3.3L direct-injection V-6 engine that is on the new Azera large sedan which  produces 290 hp and is supposed to get 26 mpg.

The new mom who wants to have a family car for 8-10 years should consider a Subaru wagon. They run forever and are worth every penny. Preferred to costly U.S. SUVs you suggested....

Sometimes we forget to mention the obvious ones :)

Thanks for the reminder

I think my compact's black (fabric) interior feels hotter than beige or gray fabric would. Is this true?

Black attracts sunlight. It would feel hotter. Try buying a light colored cover for the drivers seat if it is an issue. Easy, cheaper fix than buying a new car.

I guess you can call me a sucker, because I got my dealer to upsell me a maintenance plan for my 2012 Toyota Camry. I've taken the vehicle in twice now for one issue, and both times I asked for a loaner vehicle, which was supposed to be part of any maintenance visit under the terms of the maintenance plan. The first visit was for the tire pressure light. When arriving at the dealer, they said it would only be a few seconds for them to re-inflate the tires with nitrogen, and that they could not provide a loaner for such a miniscule service. However, just putting nitrogen in the tires did not solve the problem, and after 3.5 hours they told me they had to order a new set of sensors. I made a new appointment to change out the sensors and requested a loaner vehicle. When I arrived for the second visit, I was told that the sensors were ready to go and the installation would only take 30 minutes, and was not applicable for the loaner under the terms of the maintenance plan. 3 hours later I find out that the mechanics went through all of the diagnostics that they went through the first time only to conclude that the sensors needed to be replaced, which they actually did not have in stock (perhaps they gave them to someone else). So now I have to go back a 3rd time, miss another half day of work, because ultimately they will wiggle out of having to provide me a loaner vehicle again. The maintenance plan is not transferable, so I'm stuck with this dealer, but I'd just like to alert people that these plans are nothing but a scam, at least the way it was sold to me (pushing the loaner vehicle aspect).

You are not a sucker. But you do have a problem. It is one of outsized expectations and, apparently, not terribly competent technicians.

Outsized expectation: Very few dealers will offer you a loaner for what they expect to be a quick and easy job.

Dealer outsive expectation: Very few repair jobs, especiall those involving diagnostic computer testing, are ever quick and easy. Something elese always seems to go wrong.

Poor customer handling: The dealer should ask for more time to correctly solved the problem. If that takes another day or two, the dealership should allow you to have a loaner.

Good day, Mr. Brown. I'm looking for a small wagon, something a bit smaller than the 13 year old Passat I have and something I'm likely to keep as long. Something fun to drive on Colorado canyon roads would be a plus, and I'm leaning towards about 3 or so years old used. There are so many choices, and I'm open to anything from Audi to Volvo. Where would you point me? And thanks.

My first inclination is to point you toward a compact GMC, Chevrolet Equinox, or Hyundai Santa Fe. You want to spend more? I'd go with the Audi Q5.

Why is Nissan not making their Cube anymore? I enjoy mine and it gets good gas mileage.

You are a rarity. Rarities are not the stuff of most successful business plans.

I was told that the driver should be able to extend her forearm straight toward the wheel (elbow on tummy) - for airbag safety. To allow room for the thing to go off and not injure you. Is this true? How far should I be from that bad boy? Is there a good rule of thumb?

I have always been told that you should be able to put your wrists over the top of the steering wheel for maximum driving safety.

For airbags they say to sit back as far as possible and recline your seat. How can you do that and drive safely?

Last time I checked less than 150 people had been killed by the force of an airbag.

Wear your seatbelt, fit yourself so that you can see everything around you and drive safely.

Er, I meant do American tax dollars pay to build cars in Finland; and if so - for whom? I know where gov gets money - from us via taxes and fees. It's the Finn thing that has me confused.

It is a global industry. Taxes are money and money is fungible. I wouldn't be surprised to find Finnish tax dollars are financing something in the U.S. auto industry, which is a global trading partner with many, many foreign suppliers. Tax dollars in those countries help to fund the developments of new widgets that are then sold abroad. The same thing happens in the United States.

Lou Ann mentioned in the intro that "Volkswagen and Mazda are bringing out diesels." Any details? I know VW already sells the Golf, Jetta, and maybe Passat diesels in the U.S.; what others are on the way? And what is Mazda going to sell with a diesel?

The new Mazda 6 wil have a diesel version.

Daughter and son-in-law in Pittsburgh are looking for small SUVs and have seen the CRV, Rogue etc ... I recommended the Santa Fe thinking they're well reviewed, a giant killer etc, but wow they are now the giants because they cost more (as far as my Internet search tells me) than the others! That is, the least expensive CRV, Rogue or Outback is at least $3k less than the least expensive Santa Fe. Is that because word of mouth has caused the marketers to bump the price or is the Santa Fe really filled with better materials? Pretty sure I'm comparing apples to apples here.

It is because the Santa Fe is such an excellent compact wagon/suv. Butif you can get a better moneydeal on a Nissan Rogue, buy it. It's also good.

Hi. With the launch by Toyota some years ago with the Scion brand, is the Scion brand making money for Toyota? Do you see Toyota continuing with Scion? Thanks.

great question. Scion was brought out as a sort of skunkworks group for Toyota. Scion was the first real group that understood that young people were adding aftermarket products to their car. Instead of having young people do that, and miss the sell and financing for those parts, Scion made them available as part of the purchase, and financing, price.

I think Scion will stay. Toyota needs to step up the marketing though.

When I bought my BMW325i new in 2002, the dealer was very good, although the salesman pushed me to buy the undercoating/Scotchgard protection for $900. I emailed BMW Canada directly, and they said all Beemers come with undercoating/seat protection so they are unnecessary extras but dealers are independently operated and can offer those services. As I drove off the lot, the salesman dropped the price to $450, but I still said no. My Beemer's been a fun car to drive, but it's been extremely expensive out of warranty, and I maintained it. Next car: VW Golf TDI, for sure.

Dealer-applied undercoating and "environmental protection package" are wastes of money. I've been in automobile plants all over the world, including in Sao Paulo. Every painting and coating operation I witnessed included multiple undercoatings and multiple layers of extrior protection. Why do it again at extra cost?

We thank you all for joining us today. We invite you to return next week. Thanks, Dominique Vu, for another fine production. Thanks, Lou Ann, for handling the LA Show on our behalf. Please call Barbara Pomerance. She's been trying to reach you to talk about the upcoming Washington Auto Show. And, as always, thank you, Ria Manglapus, for keeping the cars moving. Eat lunch. Enjoy the weekend.

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

On Wheels Archive

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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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