washingtonpost.com
Real Wheels

Warren Brown
Washington Post columnist
Friday, June 19, 2009 11:00 AM

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown was online Friday, June 19, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the auto industry and offer purchase advice to readers. Brown has covered the cars industry for The Washington Post since 1982.

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Fort Washington, Md.: In your 01/06/08 column in the WP, you said of the 2008 Infiniti EX35 Journey "Infiniti has a clear winner here: an exceptionally well-sculpted crossover utility wagon... very attractive interior, excellent safety engineering, reasonably good mileage, and exceptional road perforance." You rated ride, acceleration, and handling as "excellent." In your 06/14/09 column reviewing the same automobile and with the same engine you said "I can't muster affection for the thing." You rated ride, acceleration, and handling as "good." If the automobiles were not identified in the reviews, one would think that you had reviewed two completely different automobiles instead of the same automobile. Explain how you could come to two such different opinions of the same automobile in a span of less than 18 months.

A Pint-Size Crossover That Will Fit Many (Post, Jan 06 2008.)

For Less, a Nissan Leaves This One in the Dust (Post, June 14 2009.)

Warren Brown: Good question, simple answer: I drove the Nissan Rogue, a remarkably similar vehicle (despite fwd/rwd layout differences) that consumes less fuel and runs just as well for a heck of a lot less money, with equal standard safety items to boot.

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Oakland, Calif.: Hi, Warren, I've heard and read it over and over again -- no one under 30 will even consider buying a GM car. At the other end of the age spectrum, I'm 71, and when considering our luxury car buy, it was either BMW, Lexus or Mercedes. Cadillac was not even remotely on our radar screen. This admittedly is not scientific, but I wonder about GM's future, given that its showrooms may not even be visited by the disillusioned many. Your thoughts?

Warren Brown: Good morning, Oakland:

For the first five months of this year, counting ONLY its remaining core products (Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC), GM had 16.8 percent of the U.S. auto market. Toyota had 16.2 percent; Ford had 15.7 percent; Honda, 10.9 percent; Chrysler, 10.2 percent; Nissan, 7.3 percent; and Hyundai, 7.3 percent. All German car companies doing business in the United States had less than Hyundai.

Inasmuch as GM had 16.8 percent and Toyota, which includes its Lexus and Scion brands, had 16.6 percent, does that mean "nobody" is buying Toyota, just as "Nobody' is buying GM with 16.8 percent? Does it mean "nobody" is buying Honda with 10.9 percent, or BMW with substantially less?

Of course not.

GM in the United States has just as good a chance of success as GM in Europe, GM in China, GM in South America, places where GM is doing as least as well as many of the home-grown competitors in those places.

The problem with GM in the United States is that it's on the rong side of the perception gap.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Re: Cash for Clunkers-- Ah! I love my Congress and their utter lack of faith in allowing our economic system to work. The mere possibility of this bill has been a damper on recent car sales, so I guess it is good to finally push it through.

Is this correct? The vehicle must have been registered and insured for the past year to the current owner (good). The vehicle must be 1984 or newer (good). The clunker can't get more than 18 mpg. The buyer gets $3500 if the new vehicle is 2 mpg better and $4500 if 10 mpg better.

The dollar amounts are very generous but the rationale for the 18 mpg cut-off is weak. Once again, government policy (my profession) punishes people who tried to do the right thing before it was required and bought a pretty efficient car (Camry) and now want to buy a super-efficient car (Aveo).

Warren Brown: Yes, Silver Spring, the Senate this week gave the final legislative nod on the bill pretty much as you described it. (I'd be more comfortable looking at the ACTUAL implementation language.) The Obama White House will sign it. The measure could help jumpstart sales. A good thing. But don't expect it to do much to reduce national consumption of gasoline. Here's why, and here's hoping that the geniuses at the White House and on Capitol Hill are listening.

Energy conservation is a two-part equation--one-part industry and one-part consumer.

Corporate average fuel economy and even the seemingly pro-consumer cash-for-clunkers bill work only the industrial side of the problem.

CAFE dictates industry fuel-economy goals (as opposed to fuel-efficiency, a different matter). CFC (cash for clunkers) in no way addresses vehicle miles driven or other consumer behaviors that lead to overall increased consumption of gasoline.

Both measures are lgislative window dressing designed to help politicians appear to be doing what they absolutely refuse to do: come up with a sensible, national energy policy that requires participation (read sacfriifice) by all parties in the energy conservation equation.

Geez, I trade in a perfectly usable truck that gets 18 mpg. I buy a replacement with government assistance (our tax dollars) that gets 20 or 21 mpg. How much total energy s expended in that process--ditching the old model, which will be transferred to Puerto Rico or somewhere for resale, or scrapped; and manufacturing, selling and transporting the new model?

CFC isn't an energy conservation bill. It's a retail incentive bill...and a jobs bill. Period.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Mr. Brown-- Cash for Clunkers. Is there an income limit to be eligible? How can I find out the official MPG of my 1996 Infinity I-30? Is the MPG they track the combined MPG? When does it expire? Silly bill. Should have been 40 mpg cars, 30 mpg trucks/SUVs/"Mini"vans (remember when minivans were mini?) POA USA only. Thanks.

Warren Brown: Hello, D.C.: I don't have complete details. But you might find them at www.fueleconomy.gov, or www.dot.nhtsa.gov. Hope this helps. Confirm for us, please.

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A New (to me) Car!: I need to buy a car for commmuting to business school. Since I live in Boston, it should be small (tight parking), good in the snow, and reliable as a used car. What do you reocmmend? Though money is an object, I am willing to spend a few more bucks to be sure I get something reliable.

Any other tips for buying a used car that I hope to only have for a couple of years? Thanks for your help!

Warren Brown: Lots to choose from. But keep in mind that used car prices have risen. A demand-supply thing. More people buying used than new in the recession. That said, check these in alphabetical order:

. Chevrolet Aveo

. Chevrolet Cobalt

. Ford Focus

. Honda Fit

. Honda Civic

. Hyundai Accent

. Hyundai Elantra

. Nissan Sentra

. Toyota Yaris

. Toyota Corolla

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Not really about cars: I just would like to mention, as it did happen in a car, that my neighbor committed suicide after losing his job. He has a wife and 12 year old son. Fortunately the son is being told it was an accident, but 12-year-olds are not as ignorant as people think. This incident happened right next to my parents home and they have been amazing with their support for the family. So cars can be tools that destroy lives... that was my point. Thank you, and I hope everyone will have a special thought for this family.

Warren Brown: First, please accept (and extend to the family) my sincere condolences for the tragic loss of your neighbor. You are right, 12 year-olds are not stupid. Having had the personal misfortune of several friends and a family member who have taken the same unhappy route to eternity, I find it best to simply be truthful about the nature of the loved one's demise. Truth tends to limit future bitterness and recrimination when discovereed, as it most assuredly will be discovered. Better now than later.

As for the car being a tool that destroyed your neighbor's life, I don't know. It sounds as if your neighbor took his life inside the car, as opposed to with the car (deliberately crashing, for example).

The culprit, it seems, is the same one that could put all of us in the dumps....and the grave, if we aren't careful.

Too many of us identify the meaning of our lives with our jobs--jobs that we'll leave anyway, sooner or later, one way or another. We identify personal value with income--income that will end anyway, sooner or later, one way or another. We think we can solve temporary problems with a permanent solution--suicide--thereby creating a really big permanent problem--the loss of a loved one--for the people we love. Again, my condolences.

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RE: GM: Just for another piece of non-statistical evidence... I'm 27... if I own a home with a garage (I don't now) by the time the 2nd or 3rd generation Volt comes out, it's mine. In the meantime, I have every intention of buying the 1.4L Turbo Cruze within a month of when it comes out. When released, it will more than likely be the most efficient compact car available in the U.S. I personally think there's signs that we're on the verge of HUGE leaps in battery technology (example... EESTOR's technology could revolutionalize the EV) so I'm holding off a little on the Volt. But I think having the infastructure ready to go is very smart on their part. Anyhow... just more anectodal evidence... 27 years old, and I'm heavily eyeballing GMs upcoming products.

Warren Brown: No argument here. Frankly, I'm betting that the New GM is going to rock the market. Laugh now, you wonderful detractors. But please be kind enough in the future to acknowledge: "Yeah, Warren was right."

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Arlington, Va.: The following is according to www.fueleconomy.gov: How will this affect trade-in value?

Your trade-in will be scrapped or parted out rather than resold by the dealer. Therefore, the new vehicle's price will be reduced by the incentive amount instead of the amount the dealer would normally give you for trade-in.

So it doesn't look like any of the traded-in vehicles will end up in Puerto Rico etc.

Warren Brown: History argues differently. Much of our used and unwanted stuff with remaining functional value winds up overseas--usually in poor countries with weaker environmental, safety, and other regulations. And if the new vehicle's price is reduced by the federal incentive amount, rather than the actual trade-in value, are you losing or gaining money?

If, for example, the traded vehicle has a resaleable value of $12,000, what are you getting by trading it in for the top incentive of $4,500--just because the traded vehicle gets 18 mpg?

Are all 18-mpg ehicles the same? I don't think so.

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For A New (to me) Car!: : Add Scion xB or xD to the list......

Warren Brown: Oops, you're right. Thank you. And the Nissan Versa. I forgot that on, too. More suggestions are welcome.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Here's the link to summary information: http://fueleconomy.gov/feg/cash4clunkers.shtmlactual bill: http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=111_cong_bills&docid=f:h2751eh.txt.pdf

There are different requirements for cars and three classes of trucks. The incentive is a voucher that applies at the time of purchase. There is no income limitation and the voucher is not considered as income at tax time. (Free money!)

The MPG numbers used in the cash for clunkers rule are the combined city/highway figure on fueleconomy.gov

It looks like the incentives will apply to sales that occur between (1) the signing of the law by the President, which hasn't happened yet and (2) one year after the final rules are written. Hold your horses until it gets signed!

Warren Brown: Thank you very much.

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Falls Church, Va.: Hi, Warren! Thanks for the chats. I'm currently driving a BMW 328xi (leased) and within the next year, will be getting a new car (purchase). I want a four-door sedan that's roomy enough for me (a 30-year-old woman who loves her zippy car), my fiance, and my five-year-old daughter in the backseat. The 3-series is a little cramped as it is with my guy in the front and my daughter in the backseat behind him. Considering cars like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Nissan Altima. Anything stand out to you? I'd love to have something with the driving style of the 3-series, but with more room and a lower price tag. Thanks!

Warren Brown: hello, Falls Church. Take a look at the Volkswagen CC, Audi A4, and Infiniti G37 S-Sport.

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Leesburg, Va.: Warren, how much would a 2010 Camaro run me? I'm interested in getting one, and haven't done a ton of reasearch. I assume that a new and presumably high-demand car likely won't have many incentives in the form of discounts, rebates, low APR, etc...

Warren Brown: Hello, Leesburg:

Base prices on the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro run from $22,245 for the V-6 LS to $33,430 for the 8-cylinder Camaro 2 SS. Don't look for any discounts on those, not even in GM's current bankruptcy reorganization proceedings. There is a 28-days supply of 2010 Camaros (approximately 6,000 retail inventory units available nationwide as of June 1, 2009, according to Automotive News Data Center). A 60-days inventory supply is considered normal in the U.S. auto market.

Translation: Inventory supply below or substantially below 60-days--smaller discount to no discount.

Inventory above to substantially above 60-days supply-- better to substantial discounts.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: I'm glad Saab found a sympathetic home with a Swedish car group that will only improve it after being hammered by GM for the past 20 years. Darn shame what they did to that line. Just ask any mechanic, they were much easier to work on before the GM thrashing.

Warren Brown: I put that question to several mechanics. Lots of disagreement there. And besides, why did Saab sell itself to GM in the first place? Answer: Because Saab wasn't selling, wasn't making money doing what it was doing before GM bailled it out. Saab's problems existed long before GM took it over.

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Hillsboro, Va.: About GM: we rented an Acadia last year, and fell in love with it. We ended up buying one, have had it a year, and still love it.

If GM can keep working with rental agencies, they can win customers that way.

Warren Brown: Yupp. Please, GM, NO MORE lousy base models to the rental companies. Please.

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CarMax?: Warren, I went with my Dad a month ago to buy a car. Buying from a used car salesman is normally an unpleasant experience so we went armed to the teeth with information on the preferred models.

Turns out the experience was enjoyable and low pressure. The salesman was helpful and useful. When my Dad decide to think about his options for a few days, there was no high pressure tactics from the salesman. That was a surprise.

A question for you. Why don't the auto dealers of new cars do this? Imagine going to one place buy a Ford, Chevy, or Honda, as if I was shopping at Giant for grocerie. Low pressure,informative, pleasant.

Warren Brown: Many auto dealers, foreign and domestic, have indeed adapted the CarMax and Saturn customer-friendly selling techniques. Walk out of any dealership where customer-friendly techniques aren't in evidence. Customer-friendly signals:

. Respect for consumers in mannerism and overall sales approach.

. Equal respect for gender (male, female); sexual peference (gay, lesbian, straight), race and ethnicity.

. Knowledgeble sales staff.

. NO HIGH PRESSURE. NO PRESSURE, period.

. Truth in advertising.

. Truth in financing.

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Warren Brown: Thank you all for coming bac next week. I am collecting all unanswered questions. And as soon as I hear from my wonderful managers on the possibility of starting blog, I will answer more of them throughout the week.

You all can get us started on a blog by suggesting a name for that item. Please send to manglapusv@washpost.com, or warbro70@aol.com.

Take care.

Thanks Sakina for your patience and production skills.

Eat linch, Ria.

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