Archive for December, 2010
In a year that has seen more than 19 million recalls, the highest total since 2004, it makes perfect sense that the last day of the year would have several automakers throwing in some last minute safety notices.
Ford issued a minor recall this morning for issues with the new 2011 models of the Ford Edge, Ford F-150 and Lincoln MKX. Turns out that particular versions of these models have an issue with the body control module, which affects the car's electrical system. If these models were to short circuit, the entire electrical system could potentially overheat and cause a fire, according to the company. The recall is pretty small, with less than 15,000 vehicles affected, but the consequences could be disastrous.
Meanwhile, Chrysler's problems affect nearly 150,000 new and used vehicles in total, although they're not quite as serious. A problem with the rear axle on the Ram 1500 requires an extra 20 ounces of lube to be added, which drivers can do either on their own or for free at the dealer. On the Ram 4500 and 5500, a side ball stud on the tie rod could possibly fracture, requiring a replacement to be installed. Finally, the 2009 Dodge Journey has a problem with door-mounted wiring that could ultimately lead to the disabling of the side-impact sensor. That means side-curtain airbags may not deploy in a crash, increasing the risk of injury.
Drivers can compare vehicle specifications and performance as much as they like, but ultimately one of the biggest motivating factors that drive vehicle purchase is simply how "cool" a car is – a highly subjective but nevertheless important quality for cars to have.
In a recent survey by J.D. Power and Associates, the company found that one of the reasons that customers will stay loyal to an automaker is if the vehicles are particularly fun to drive. Rather than focusing on practical reasons like fuel economy or horsepower, the driver was instead looking for an emotional response.
So which cars are cool? That's entirely up to the driver, but there are some cars that nearly everyone agrees on. The vast majority of drivers won't turn down the chance to get behind the wheel of a Mustang, and "lame" isn't often heard to describe James Bond's lineup of Aston Martins.
Yet while many of these no-brainer cool cars are in the luxury or supercar segment, automakers have also been a bit more aggressive with their styling as of late. Kelley Blue Book recently profiled ten cool cars that can all be had for less than $18,000. Drivers should keep in mind that if they instead opt for a used car, they can probably afford a cooler one as well – as long as they don't mind a few miles on it.
One of the prime examples of a cheap but cool car is the recently-launched Ford Fiesta. Ford started the marketing buzz on this machine with a cutting-edge social media movement, and it was reflected in the sales. With a highly-personalized exterior and an eye-catching shape, the Fiesta will turn a few heads without breaking the bank.
For those who want a car that breaks the traditional rules, the Nissan Cube is another affordable option. This box-shaped compact looks like something out of a science-fiction movie and features unorthodox styling, like a wraparound rear window.
Yet a car doesn't need to be unconventional to be considered cool. The Hyundai Elantra Touring edition sticks pretty closely to the established station wagon archetype. Where it really diverts is in the bevy of features that come standard. Drivers will be safe and secure with eight airbags as they rock out to a 172-watt sound system that features MP3 playback and iPod integration.
The common sedan might not be the first thing that drivers think of when they hear the word "cool car" but the news source cites the Honda Civic as a notable exception. The Civic is reliable and practical, with good performance and a reputation for reliability, but it also offers drivers styling that's reminiscent of the cars of the future. Inside, options for Bluetooth, a navigation system and all-leather seating can turn the Civic into a truly cool car.
Ultimately, getting a cool car on a budget will come down to what the driver is looking for, but the wide variety of cars for sale in recent years gives them more options than ever in creating their own cool ride.
Honda has announced that it will be recalling a large number of new and late-model used Honda Accords and Pilots due to an issue with the suspension system.
Rather than a flaw in the design of the vehicle, the problem stems from a piece of critical machinery at the Japanese automaker's Alabama manufacturing plant. A machine that was supposed to tighten the bolts on the vehicle's suspension may have been calibrated incorrectly, leading to the possibility that the pieces connecting the suspension to the front axle could come loose. The flaw was caught by workers at the plant.
The recall notice applies to 10,800 Accords and Pilots manufactured at the plant since 2010. Affected owners have already been notified.
In a separate incident, the company also sent out a notice to nearly 2.2 million customers who had registered with the company on their website. A group of hackers were apparently able to steal a list of email addresses and passwords from the company, along with vehicle identification numbers (VINs). Although sensitive information like social security numbers were not obtained, users who use the same password for every website could potentially be exposed to further attacks.
American automaker Ford has largely shifted to a small-car strategy as of late, focusing marketing efforts on cars like the Fusion and Fiesta while modifying classics like the F-150 and Mustang to offer more fuel efficient rides. The company seems to be furthering that aim by announcing that it hopes to have "stop-start" technology available on all cars for sale by 2012.
The feature is a simple and cost-effective way to decrease the fuel consumption of any vehicle, and is already available on Ford's European models along with the American Ford Escape and Fusion hybrids. By detecting when a vehicle is fully stopped, the feature shuts off the engine in order to reduce the fuel wasted while a vehicle is idling. When the driver presses the accelerator, the engine automatically starts up again with no noticeable lag or delay – similar to a "sleep mode" for an automobile.
With commuters typically forced to come to a stop in heavy traffic and city dwellers dealing with numerous red lights, Ford claims that the technology can increase fuel economy by anywhere between four and 10 percent. The EPA has not yet included stop-start testing in their official fuel efficiency ratings, so the MPGs for any Ford cars that use technology likely won't see a bump for a few more years.
CarMax, a national chain that owns and operates a number of used car dealerships across the country, has reported a noticeable uptick in used car sales for the third quarter, allowing the chain to increase profits beyond investor's expectations.
Profit for the company rose by 10 percent year-on-year to $82.4 million, up from $74.6 million in the third quarter of 2009, according to The Associated Press. The strong postings for the company were largely attributed to a high demand for used cars.
Actual revenue for the company was actually up 23 percent, with all dealerships under the CarMax banner moving more than $2.12 billion worth of used autos. According to the company, it makes about $2,103 in profit every time a car is sold.
"We've seen a nice trend here over the last few quarters of increased traffic and increased sales," CEO Tom Folliard said in a conference call with investors. "This quarter's results showed sustained strength in many of our key areas."
While dealerships may have the widest variety of used cars for sale, shoppers may want to keep in mind that they may be able to find even better deals on cars by visiting an auto auction or buying through a private seller.
Over the years, the automotive industry has learned that car customers can have a wide variety of different reasons for choosing which new or used vehicle that they'll be driving home. Some drivers only stick to used cars, while others are fiercely loyal to a particular brand. Many always buy a pickup, while some stick with American automakers. Beyond these trends there are a wide variety of reasons that drivers choose a car, whether it's resale value, safety, styling or performance.
In an effort to better understand the habits of these consumers, J.D. Power and Associates releases a Customer Retention Study every year that examines what factors a buyer finds appealing about particular brands. Building brand loyalty is one way that automakers ensure repeated sales, so the survey seeks to highlight strengths across an automaker's lineups as well as any weaknesses that they may wish to correct.
What's tricky is that shoppers' preferences can change from year to year. For example, the 2009 edition of the survey highlighted preferences that were highly tied to the tough economy at the time, such as resale value. This year, with the economy steadily improving, drivers flip-flopped in what they wanted out of their vehicle. Drivers citing resale value dropped a full ten percentage points, while "fun to drive" saw a nine-point upswing.
"Now that economic and market conditions have improved somewhat, vehicle owners are increasingly citing emotional, rather than practical, reasons for staying with their vehicle brand or switching to a different one," said Raffi Festekjian, director of automotive product research at J.D. Power and Associates. "In light of this, developing new models with attractive styling and that are perceived as fun to drive is increasingly critical for automakers in order to retain and conquest customers as the market continues to recover."
At the top of the list are two automakers with differing approaches to customer appeal. Ford and Honda both achieved a retention rate of 62 percent, meaning those drivers chose to purchase a vehicle from the automaker again. Ford respondents widely replied that their car was fun to drive or had eye-catching styling, while proponents of Honda cited safety and high resale value.
Just behind those brands was a three-way tie between Hyundai, Toyota and Lexus, at 60 percent retention. Also of interest was Hyundai's up-and-coming Kia brand, which was able to boost its retention by a whopping 21 points in 2010, up to 58 percent.
The survey also noticed a slight shift from imports to domestics. In 2009, 10 percent of drivers made the switch from an import to an American-made brand, but 2010 saw 14 percent of drivers change brands.
Drivers who are loyal to a particular brand might be rewarded for trading their car in for a model of the same type. Many dealers offer loyalty bonuses that can amount to significant discounts. And even if an automaker's new models begin to get away from the reasons a driver chose that brand in the first place, they should keep in mind that they can likely find the features they prefer on used autos.
After the three finalists for the North American Car of the Year were announced, many publications automatically assumed that one of the two new electric vehicles – either the Chevrolet Volt or Nissan Leaf – would walk away with the trophy. But Hyundai, the maker of the third finalist, the 2011 Sonata, is pointing out that its vehicle shouldn't be counted out just yet.
In a statement released to USA Today's "Drive On" blog, Hyundai spokesman Jim Trainor lightly chastised the blog and other websites for essentially predicting victory for the new Volt, by talking up the Sonata's features while denigrating the two competitors' slow sales.
"You'll never have to worry about 'range anxiety' in a Sonata," he said. "And it must be worth something that customers have already taken delivery of almost 200,000 Sonatas – this while at least one other finalist is talking about their first two deliveries. The positive environmental impact of 200,000 high-fuel-efficiency Sonatas far outweighs that of a niche car that will sell around 10,000 units – about half of what we do each month."
Trainor also pointed out that the Sonata comes in three different versions, including the base, turbo and hybrid options.
Drivers interested in any of these models may want to wait until the vehicles hit the used car market, as they might be able to get a great deal on a Car of the Year candidate.
Ford has announced that it will return to the minivan market for the first time in four years, with plans to debut an American version of its previous European-only C-Max compact van.
With minivan sales dropping off, Ford made the decision in 2006 to discontinue the flailing Freestar model in America. Meanwhile, Europe got a small minivan known as the C-Max that was based off of the successful Focus platform.
Now, the success of small cars like the Focus and Fiesta coupled with an expected boom in the minivan market is causing Ford to bring the C-Max stateside. Ford product development chief Derrick Kuzack told Bloomberg that the automaker purposefully avoided making the car look like a "box on wheels," instead opting for the exterior styling featured on the company's more recent successes. Although smaller than competitors, the C-Max still features seating for seven and a focus on cargo space.
According to J.D. Power and Associates, minivan sales are expected to increase by 52 percent in 2012. That makes the arrival of the C-Max in late 2011 optimal for capitalizing on the rising number of families in the market for a vehicle.
Drivers who are interested in the company's earlier van models may be able to find used Ford Freestars or Windstars are their local dealer.
After many vehicles posted consisted four- or five-star ratings under safety tests issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the agency revised its tests to become much more stringent, resulting in a drop-off for a number of popular vehicles.
The group is slowly making their way through batches of vehicles, and the latest tests exposed the safety flaws in one top-selling model: the Honda Civic. The Civic scored a two out of five in the side crash test and went home with an overall score of 3, a significant difference from the car's once 5-star reputation.
Honda is no slouch when it comes to safety, as the company's Accord has been the only model thus far to crack the new tests, earning a five in the rollover, side crash and frontal crash tests for a perfect score. Most cars receive a three- or four-star overall rating.
The other cars tested were the Nissan Sentra, Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain. The Terrain and Equinox received five stars in side crashes and fours in the other two categories. The Sentra got a four in the rollover, but could only manage threes in the front and side crash tests.
Drivers should consider safety ratings when shopping for new or used vehicles.
Every year, a group of automotive journalists select the 2011 North American Car of the Year, an award given to the vehicle that jurors feel exemplifies the best that the car industry has to offer. To be eligible for consideration, a car must be either entirely new or "substantially changed" in the eyes of the 49 journalists who vote on the award.
While the official winner has yet to be announced, the Automotive Press Association has revealed that the field has been narrowed down to three models in both the car and truck categories.
It appears the press favors green initiatives, as the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt make up two of the three finalists. These two vehicles are the first electric autos to hit the mass market, something that will certainly work in their favor in the voting process. However, the cars are far from identical. The Leaf is fully electric, never requiring gas, but pays for it with a limited range. The Volt uses a gas generator to power an electric motor, extending its range but also technically making it a series hybrid.
The third finalist is the redesigned Hyundai Sonata. The jurors have already indicated their respect for the changes Hyundai has made to its brand, as the Genesis was the 2009 Car of the Year – the only win in history for the South Korean automaker. All three of the Sonata's versions – the base model, hybrid and 2.0T turbo – are considered in the voting.
Cars weren't the only models competing for an award. The same group also names the North American Truck of the Year. Historically, Ford has dominated the category, with seven wins for the automaker over the history of the award. Last year, the automaker won for the Ford Transit Connect, in addition to the Ford Fusion Hybrid winning the 2010 Car of the Year.
This year, the new Ford Explorer goes up against two redesigned offerings from Chrysler: the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango. The Grand Cherokee has actually won the award once, back in 1999. It's worth noting that all three vehicles were once wildly popular during the nation's SUV craze, but have since been redesigned to be more fuel efficient and eco-friendly.
Drivers in the market for a vehicle don't need to pay new car prices in order to own a Car or Truck of the Year. By searching the used car market, they can likely find deals on acclaimed models from years past.
The Chevrolet Volt has reached its first official customer – a retired airline pilot from New Jersey.
Jeffrey Kaffee of Parsippany, N.J. returned home from vacation early to pick up his Chevy Volt at his local dealership. The Parsippany Daily Record reports that Kaffee paid about $42,000 for the vehicle before the $7,500 federal tax credit.
Kaffee has a history with green vehicles, as he traded a used Toyota Prius to help lower the cost of the purchase.
Chevrolet announced that Kaffee is the first of nearly 360 customers who will receive their Volt this week. The first areas to receive the new vehicles are California, Texas, Washington D.C. and New York City. The cars are being delivered from a manufacturing plant in Detroit.
The Volt recently took home the Car of the Year awards from two major publications – Motor Trend and Automobile magazine. The series hybrid can travel for 35 miles on electricity only before switching to gas mode.
The main rival to the Volt, Nissan's Leaf, appears to have beaten GM out of the starting gate. The company announced last week that it had delivered the first Leaf to a customer in California.
Drivers who want to make the switch to a greener vehicle should consider selling or trading their current car. They may also want to wait until the models hit the used car market.
For many families, one vehicle is simply not enough to handle all of the tasks that the various members will need a car for. That's why many families choose to purchase multiple vehicles, so as to ease the load on the family car.
When a family hits the dealership, they'll have a wide variety of cars for sale to choose from. One thing that buyers want to keep in mind is the concept of pairing their vehicles to accomplish different tasks. If there's already a minivan in the garage, an SUV or crossover might be a bit redundant. Conversely, if dad already has a Ford Mustang, mom won't likely be looking at a Chevrolet Camaro.
MSN Autos recently gave some suggestions for families looking for two vehicles that compliment each other nicely. Most follow the "small car-big car" formula, which should allow drivers the flexibility to haul cargo and kids while also maintaining an everyday vehicle for less-intense tasks.
In terms of an affordable pairing, the news source recommends the Scion tC from Toyota paired with the Kia Sportage from Hyundai. When bought new, these two vehicles retail in the $18,000 range, but those shopping the used car market can likely get the pair for under $30,000 – the price of many upscale vehicles.
The Sportage serves as a great family hauler, with plenty of room for seating and cargo. Meanwhile, the tC is an affordable option for drivers who don't want to sacrifice performance, packing 180 horsepower under a sleek coupe-inspired frame.
Another pairing is titled "The Odd Couple" by the news source. The Mini Cooper from BMW is an extremely fuel-efficient and fun city vehicle that can produce some serious horsepower with the right performance package, but drivers may worry about their ability to handle more than two people. By opting for a Chevrolet Suburban, those fears will be out the window. With seating for up to 9, the Suburban is more than three times the size of a Mini Cooper, according to the news source. An odd couple, indeed.
What about for families that are trying to go green? Purchasing a big family vehicle may seem contradictory to that philosophy, but recent offerings like the Ford Escape Hybrid and the Toyota Highlander Hybrid are smart alternatives to the gas-consuming models of yesteryear. Additionally, purchasing one of these vehicles will allow the family to use a compact electric car, like the new Chevrolet Volt or Nissan Leaf, without worry. Families won't have to stress about battery range if they use the SUV for road trips and the EV as a secondary car for shorter excurisions.
Another thing that families should keep in mind is that it will be significantly easier to purchase two vehicles if they shop used auto dealers. It might be more efficient for a family to purchase two cheap used vehicles rather than an expensive new one.
Every quarter, Kelley Blue Book, the company behind the popular used car pricing guide, surveys thousands of shoppers in the market for a new vehicle about what brands they are considering. This "most considered" list is used as a barometer for determining which brands are first and foremost in shoppers' minds.
This type of information is especially important in the luxury segment, which has heated up as of late as three brands – BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus – all compete to be the brand with the most sales for 2010 in North America. The results were largely in line with recent sales figures. BMW placed first, which might be an explanation for its recent surge in sales. It was followed closely by Lexus, Audi, Acura and Mercedes-Benz. The company pointed out that while Mercedes was fifth overall, it held the top rank in a number of a factors
that drivers cited as important, such as prestige, family friendliness, safety and interior design.
The rankings got shaken up a little bit when the group turned its attention to the luxury crossover/SUV market, a quickly growing segment. Lexus held onto the top spot in this category, followed by Acura, Cadillac, Lincoln and BMW. This suggests that the domestic luxury brands aren't appealing to buyers in the market for a coupe or sedan, but still make their way onto buyers' shopping lists for larger vehicles.
When shopping for a new or used car, one of the major factors for buyers to consider is the brand of car that they will be purchasing. Each automaker has perceived strengths and weaknesses, which often translate into their position on buyer's shopping list.
Every quarter, Kelley Blue Book polls a variety of shoppers in the market for a vehicle about which brands they are considering for their next purchase.
In previous years, Toyota's grip on the top spot has been iron-clad, with the Japanese automaker opening up a big lead over its rivals. Yet a recall scandal in 2010 caused Ford to slip past Toyota into the top spot.
According to the latest survey, Toyota is back on top once again, with 25 percent of buyers considering the brand, compared to 24 for Ford. Honda was close at 23 percent, with Chevrolet, Nissan and Hyundai rounding out the top six.
"The latest Brand Watch data from Kelley Blue Book Market Intelligence indicates that Toyota is slowly recovering from its public-perception crisis and regaining a position of prominence in the minds of new-car shoppers," said James Bell, executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book. "However, whether Toyota will ascend as high as it was before the recall crisis remains yet to be seen. Hot competition from the likes of Ford, Honda, Chevrolet, Nissan and Hyundai could make it very hard for Toyota to keep a strong lead moving forward."
The Nurburgring track in Germany is one of the most famous race tracks in the world, and some of the most famous vehicles in existence have tried their best to set world-records on the course.
MSN Autos recently detailed some of the most legendary runs made at Nurburgring in an effort to prove which car could claim the title of fastest in the world.
The most recent record-holder is the Pagani Zonda R, which broke the Ferrari 599XX's time by nearly 11 seconds in June of 2010. Clocking in at 6:47.5 seconds, the Zonda set a new standard for racing at Nurburgring.
Yet a Zonda isn't what anyone would describe as "street-legal." It's a race car built for those purposes only. While the Radical SR8 can be lumped in the same category, the car can technically be used on the road in some European countries, depending on the laws. Normally, outfitting a car for street legality means that the time will suffer, but the SR8 came in at just half-a-second behind the Zonda at 6:48.
Still, no driver is gonna find an SR8 lying around at their local used car dealer. More common automakers use the track as well, and quite frequently. In the past 3 years, the title for the world's fastest production sedan has bounced through numerous automakers. Cadillac's CTS-V set the bar pretty high with its 7:59 time in 2008, but it was bested by the new Porsche Panamera Turbo's 7:56 in 2009. Surprisingly, both were taken down by the Subaru Impreza WRX STI, which was able to edge the Porsche by just a second.
Nurburgring might be designed for high-horsepower machines, but that doesn't mean it's not used for a bit of fun as well. Mercedes-Benz' Mini brand debuted their Mini E at the track, posting a pretty respectable time of 9:51 purely on electric power.
Finally, perhaps one of the funniest moments at Nurburgring came on the British television show "Top Gear." Host Jeremy Clarkson was given a Jaguar S-Type to tool around with on the track, but was ridiculed after he posted a disappointing time of 10 minutes. That caused professional driver Sabine Schmitz to boast that she could beat his time – in a Ford Transit Van. Surprisingly, the model known more as a delivery truck was able to come pretty close, finishing just 8 seconds behind Clarkson's S-Type time.
With the exception of the Transit, all of these vehicles will fetch a pretty penny at a dealership – if they're available at all. Those who are looking for a performance vehicle, however, might be able to find a good deal on the used car market.
Chevrolet has announced that its Aveo subcompact will be renamed as the Sonic, after confusion about how to pronounce the small car's unorthodox name.
Although General Motors refers to the 2012 Sonic as a "new car," there has been no indication that next year's model will get anything more than a minor styling facelift to accompany the new name.
"The Sonic represents a new beginning for Chevrolet in the small car segment and so we felt it was time to give it a new name," said Chris Perry, vice president, Chevrolet U.S. Marketing. "The new car is roomy, stylish and fun to drive, and Sonic is a youthful, energetic name that helps convey what this vehicle is about."
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Aveo lagged far behind its subcompact competitors like the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris and Hyundai Accent in 2009, which all broke 60,000 in total sales for the year. Meanwhile, the Aveo couldn't achieve 40,000. However, statistics from Autodata obtained by USA Today reveal that the Aveo's sales are up 40 percent this year, enough to push it past the Yaris.
Those who don't care what their car is called might be able to find a used Chevrolet Aveo for a discount once the Sonic is introduced.
While Chevrolet and Nissan will be first out of the gate with their new Volt and Leaf electric vehicles (EV), drivers shouldn't expect the electric segment to remain a two-horse race for very long. In fact, nearly every major automaker has unveiled plans for a fully-electric or plug-in hybrid by the end of 2012.
Yet it remains to be seen if the American public will be waiting with open arms. A recent survey by Kelley Blue Book revealed that only 7 percent of Americans would consider purchasing an EV, citing issues like range, availability of charging stations, and price.
Several automakers have recently made a move to work on the price of the electric battery packs that every EV must contain. Current technology means that the packs cost $700-$800 per kilowatt hour. But a breakthrough by electric automaker Tesla in adapting lithium-ion laptop batteries for use in vehicles means that the price could soon be reduced to $200 per kilowatt hour.
With the battery packs one of the costliest additions that cause electric vehicles' prices to skyrocket, that's good news for green drivers. However, those who want to truly save on a car may want to wait until some of the models hit the used car market, where they'll likely be available at a discount.
Hyundai has been moving closer to the luxury market as of late, with models like the Equus and Genesis competing with the BMWs and Mercedes of the world rather than Toyotas and Hondas. Now, they may be committing to their vision of value in the luxury market even further.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the South Korean automaker is contemplating adding a new brand, likely known as "Genesis," that would compete exclusively in the luxury segment. Obvious additions to the new nameplate would be the Genesis and Equus models, but the company is also considering a new car to rival the BMW 3-Series and a luxury crossover.
According to the news source, three different plans are currently being discussed. One would see Hyundai remain as one brand while introducing the new cars as Hyundais. The second would see the "Genesis" brand sold alongside Hyundai's under one roof. The most radical idea is to give Genesis its own separate dealership facilities, sales staff and identity, much like Lexus or Acura.
Hyundai has been on a blistering pace as of late, growing its U.S. market share by 50 percent in two years while earning acclaim for its redesigned models, like the Sonata.
Those interested in purchasing a Hyundai or any other vehicle may want to keep in mind that they'll likely be able to find a deal by searching the used car market.