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Warren Brown
Friday, December 17, 2010; 11:00 AM

Live online discussion with Real Wheels columnist Warren Brown about car-buying and the auto industry.

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Warren Brown: Good morning. Many topics today. Rising gasoline prices. Winter driving. And heard at a Mazda holiday dinner this week: The most intense annual car buying season is Dec. 26--Jan. 2. Families are home. Many people are on vacation. They have time to visit dealerships. The motor vehicle manufacturing industry expects to sell 11.5 million new cars and trucks this year, 12.7 million in 2011. And some optimists are betting 14 million in 2011. That's down from previous years of 16.3 million and 17-million plus. But it does show that the industry is pulling out of the Great Recession. Mobile for the hookup. Let's talk.

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Car washing: It seems like the non-touch washes are more gentle on the car's finish, but don't clean as well as the kind with the cloths. Any thoughts on which type is better? Do current finishes stand up better to these commercial washes than in the past?

Warren Brown: I'd go with non-touch, especially on a clear-coat/base-coat paint job. Helps to avoid scratches and streaks, which seem to magnify themselves on sunny days.

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Safety technology: Mr. Brown,Driving around the D.C. area yesterday was a fresh reminder of how much antilock brakes and electronic stability control enhance driving safety and security. I'm curious what you see as the most significant vehicle handling and safety improvements on the horizon.

Warren Brown: These, many of which are here now:. Blind-side monitoring to really help you make safe lane changes.. Lane-departure warning to alert you when you drowsily stray into an adjoining lane.. OnStar Emergency communications. This actually saves lives in crashes.>. Ford SYNC system which does much the same thing. Ditto similar systems offered by BMW and Mercedes-Benz.. Distronic-type devices (M-B) that automatically keeps safe driving distances between cars.. Volvo's pedestrian friendly braking systems--automatically stops car moving at about 18 mph if pedestrian is in front of car.

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Replacing the Jimmy: Good Morning Warren, I presently have a 1996 GMC Jimmy with 212,000 miles as of today. I'm looking at a possible replacement for it. So I've been reviewing the GMC Terrain. The Jimmy has been tough, so can the Terrain fill the shoes of the Jimmy. Also has to be comfortable for my little man (9 months old) and have video player for his movie. So is the Terrain a good fit or do you have some other worthy challengers to replace old reliable that the little man will be comfortable with.

Warren Brown: The GMC Terrain is better than the Jimmy in every way that the Jimmy made you happy. All-around safer. More rigid body architecture. Electronic stability and traction control. More power, yet more fuel-efficient. Superior fit and finish. Discernibly better ride.

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hatchback/wagon: Warren,Any insight on whether to pass on any end-of-year clearance sales (VW Golf or Jetta Sportwagen; Ford Fiesta; Toyota Matrix) and wait for the 2011 Mazda 5 to come out in January?

Warren Brown: All of the models you mentioned are good in their compact crossover utility vehicle class. And many of the remaining 2010 models are moving with attractive incentives in the waning weeks of the year, meaning that they are excellent deals. But, wow, that new Mazda 5 looks good. I'll drive it in January. If it drives as good as it looks, it's a winner.

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Should be Simple...?: Warren,Happy Holidays. Easy question, not so easy answer - what's the best convertible under $40K? Could be 2 or 4 seater.

Warren Brown: My take: Ford Mustang (four comfortable seats and lots of fun), Toyota Camry Solara, and Volkswagen Eos

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Winter Tires and Washing: Warren, Merry Christmas and happ new year from Clifton. Pick your dog up some treats from Dogma and try the pizza at the place there with the brick oven. Winter tires are designed to work at temps below 40 degrees in the wet, dry and snow. All seasons or no seasons and even All Terrrain tires are not. Winter tires made my commute home uneventful despite the folks who have no clue about driving in the snow. Car washes never use them right after a major snow especially if they recycle their water. Road salt and sand get into water even if it's filtered and can damage the paint. And lets all bow our heads Honda has decided 2011 is the last year for the Honda Element.

Warren Brown: What about those Blizzak winter tires? I'm thinking about putting four of them on the Mini Cooper. Seriously, folks. I know that it might be inconvenient to many of you (in terms of storage). But it makes life a lot safer, simpler, and enjoyable in snowy climes to shod your vehicle with proper snow tires! Check with your favorite tire merchant.To Clifton: In rough numbers, Honda Element sales fell from 68,000 at the time of its introduction in the mid-1990s to fewer than 15,000 today. No vehicle model can withstand that kind of sales slump. Enjoy the Holidays, Clifton! And thanks for checking in.

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winter buying season: Don't forget the other reason for year-end car buying binges - the year end bonus. The holiday sales ads from Lexus, Acrua, Mercedes Benz and the rest don't mention it explicitly, but it is a nice holiday tradition for those of a certain class.It will be interesting to see how the car market emerges from the recession. Will people under 30 start buying cars like their parents did? (I know many who don't own cars and don't care to but maybe its just the recession). Will Americans start buying more efficient vehicles? (so far, not so much with lots of trucks and SUVs still rolling off the lots). Diesel chickens and eggs: where are the diesel cars that we could buy - will Americans buy diesels if they could - will diesel fuel be as cheap and available as regular unleaded?Interesting 'domestic' brand choices; Ford Fiesta, Chevy Sonic, Dodge? Fiat 500. Are any/all of these going to be good cars that people will enjoy or will they be like the Chevy Aveo I rented this week (buzzy, cheap, unergonomic and not that great on gas mileage and cheap)? What's the lesson to be learned from the SmartCar?

Warren Brown: All good points. Having one dearly beloved daughter in the corporate legal business, I've seen firsthand how this works. I've also seen firsthand the psyhic depression that sets in when an expected bonus does not come, or comes in at such a pitifully low level, it does nothing except boost taxes. Lucky bonus babies by lots of expensive cars, which explains why On Wheels has been reviewing so many expensive rides in recent weeks. Diesel will come, slowly. Led by the Germans in the U.S. Market. Electrics of various types will own about five percent of the market by 2020. They'll own more if our government follows General Electric's lead with infrastructure development. Also look for more rationalization in how we use alternatively fueled vehicles in manufacturing and delivery industries (electric, propane, compressed natural gas, hydrogen fuel cells).

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Nissan Leaf: Hi Warren Brown, According to Nissan, the new Nissan Leaf electric car is being delivered to its first owners now. Have you driven one yet? What did you think? We'd love to test drive it but it doesn't tour DC until March.

Warren Brown: being delivered to me today. I'm so happy the snow has stopped!

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washington, dc: 2011 Prius or Honda Insight? I notice the base model Honda got a price reduction (MSRP 18.2K now) and enhancement on basic features (vehicle stability assistance). Is this a no-brainer? Are there important ways the Prius is a better value? Thanks

Warren Brown: No-brainer. Get the Insight. Excellent vehicle construction and engineering. A less-obtrusive (than Prius) gas-electric hybrid system. A better price for getting us to an environmentallybetter place while getting us to where we want to go.

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Lexus for $23K?: I heard the new hybrid Lexus CT200h is going to be around $23,000. Can that be right? That's not much more than a Prius, and looks like it has a whole lot more upgrades.

Warren Brown: Yes, that's right. Credit competition. Ford is selling every Ford Fusion Hybrid sedan it can make at a very reasonable price. Toyota, maker of all things Lexus, has to keep up. When competition is healthy, it works both ways.

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pick a small car, any small car: Thank you.

Warren Brown: Okay, here goes:1. Golf TdI--direct-injection diesel, lots of torque, lots of fun, great fuel economy.2. VW GTI--direct-injection gasoline, lots of oomph in a small package.3. Impreza WRX--all-wheel-drive pocket rocket. Fast! But comes with a steep price for a small car.4. Mini Clubman--looks cute on the outside but does not make much sense on the inside in terms of utility. Pricey, to boot.

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Boston: Warren, I just wanted to thank you for your advice over the past few weeks. Yesterday I traded in my 2007 BMW X3 for a 2011 VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI. I've only driven about 15 miles, but I love it. I was cruising on the highway this morning and the car's computer told me I was getting 44 mpg! I wish more manufacturers would bring diesel cars to America, as I think they are my vehicle of choice for the future. Thanks again.

Warren Brown: Happy to have made you happy. Enjoy!

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future of green...: Hey Mr. Brown, thanks for chatting. What do you think the eco-conscious, working class people will be driving 10 years from now? Will it be all electric with plug stations in parking lots? Continued use of hybrids? Hybrid diesels? Who's winning the race in your view?

Warren Brown: The bus (all-electric, compressed natural gas, occasionally propane, possibly advanced direct-injection, hydrogen fuel-cell, common-rail diesel). The bus.The train. High-speed rail.When it comes to cars, now the favorite of an estimated 67 percent of commuters in the Washington Metrolitan Ara, for example, you will see the DC-ization of America--a non-too-subtle economic war agains the car(camera-issued "speeding" tickets, parking fines, bike lanes on streets already too small for motorized traffic, no-car zones, that sort of thing).In general cars will be smaller, more fuel-efficient.

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Picky my new car!: I'm looking at the Ford Fusion and Nissan Altima. I want fairuly luxurious fit and finish (leather, power everything, heated seats, etc.) but don't want to pay for a Lexus, Acura, or Infiniti brand. Bad experiences with Hyundai in the 1990s make that a big fat no. Any other cars I should be considering?

Warren Brown: You should reconsider your "big, fat no" to Hyundai and take a serrious look at the new Hyundai Sonata turbocharged four-cylinder sedan. Failing that, take a look at a fully loaded Chevrolet Cruze. You'll be exceptionally surprised. And the Ford Fusion Hybrid.

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Crossovers: Hi Warren,I know you get similar questions a lot, but what SUV/crossover would you recommend for a family of three looking for a nice interior and good acceleration? Ideally priced (when nicely equipped) for under $35k.

Warren Brown: Quick answer: The Chevrolet Traverse. Seats eight. More amenities than you can shake a stick at. Excellent fit and finish. Top safety. Excellent utility. Reasonable price.

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New BMW 5 Series: Warren--I want a sports sedan that's fun to drive, but still can carry back seat passengers when necessary. I have focused in on the 2011 BMW 5 series and am wondering what your opinion is on whether the new 550 would be better than the 535. There's a slight cost difference of course.

Warren Brown: The 550 is nice. But I love that 535, especially with diesel. Absolutely marvelous torque! I'd go there,

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Warren Brown: just in time for the most intense part of the international car show season. We'll be reporting via video from Detroit, Geneva, New York, Chicago and, of course, our own wonderful Washington International Auto Show. I'll be working with the marvelous Lou Ann Hammond and her uber-techhie husband (we call him "Stretch") to bring you the video.Thanks to Dominique Vu for today's excellent production. And, as always, thanks to Ria for all she does to keep the cars moving in and out of my driveway. Eat lunch, Ria.Merry Christmas! A belated Happy Chanukah. Great Quanza. To my agnostic and atheist friends, have a Happy Humanitarian Season.


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