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Warren Brown
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Real Wheels
Hosted By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, June 04, 2003; 11:45 a.m. ET

Warren Brown is back to talk about all your automobile issues! He has been covering the automobile industry for The Washington Post since 1982. Brown, who joined the newspaper in 1976, has what many people think is a particularly cool job: He gets to test drive all manner of cars, from top-of-the-line Mercedes sedans and the newest sports cars to Volkswagen Beetles and SUVs. His auto reviews are lively, detailed accounts of a car's good and bad points, addressing everything from a car's highway performance to its "head-turning" factor and sound system.

He regularly comes online Wednesdays at 11 a.m. ET to answer your questions on every aspect of the automotive industry -- from buying your dream car to the future of the internal combustion engine.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Kingstowne, Va.: Do you think the Sierra Club's criticism that the Ford Model T got better MPG than the Ford Explorer now does is valid?

Warren Brown: Good Morning, Kingstowne.
The Sierra Club, Global Exchange and the v
Rainforest Action Network are all full of baloney.
Here's why:
Though clever, the SC's charge that Ford isn't getting better mileage today than its Model T got years ago is patently dishonest and misleading. They are comparing corporate average fuel economy of an entire fleet of automobiles to one car.
Bottom line is that Ford leads on MPG in at least three categories. Also, If you view the, say Focus as a common car matching the Model T in terms of price and usage, the Focus gets what--nearly 38 mpg---along with a raft of safety and pollution controls that did not exist on the model T.


Alexandria, Va.: I returned from Europe two weeks ago where I rented a Mercedes C200 CDI (Diesel) for 14 days. It cruised the German autoban with relish, returning outstanding fuel mileage.
It was quiet at cruising speed. There were no discernable fumes. And diesel fuel is approx .20 Euros/liter less than gasoline.
Will we ever see the likes of this engine available in the US?

Warren Brown: Yes.
Both Mercedes Benz and Volkswagen are planning to make a big push on diesels in the United States in the next year. Look for the U.S. intro of dircet-injection, common-rail diesels which have the performance properties you experienced in your European drive. The stickler here is the quality of diesel fuel. Europeans are running on super-low sulfur diesel, which common rail diesels require. Our petroleum industry isn't producing much of the stuff, as yet.


Warren Brown: Hello, good people. This show is coming to you today from George Washington's old place, Mount Vernon, Va. William Clay Ford Jr., the chairman and chief executive of Ford Motor Co., was here this morning doing the honors in conjunction with his company's 100th Birthday Celebration.
Come to think of it, that partly is why he and his company are now the targets of opportunity of the Sierra Club, Global Exchange, and the Rainforest Action Network.

Poor Billy. He's an earnest chap who really means what he says when he says his company will go green. Unfortunately for him and Ford, the economy went south, delaying, not derailing, some future product planning.

Now, like spoiled children who are angry because their father has fallen on hard times and can't take them to the circus THIS YEAR, some enviros are going out of their way to embarrass the one auto executive and the one company that publicly has endorsed their goals.

"I don't understand it," the Ford Chairman siad this morning. "It's not that I feel betrayed. Our hybrid Escape is coming out (2005 for 2006). We are investing billions in research....I just feel that we could get more done working together than we can by slinging at one another...."

Poor Billy. He doesn't understand that he's dealing with people who produce nothing for no one, who have to answer to no one except themselves, who have no customers or stockholders to please.


Darnestown, Md.: Warren,

Some dealers STILL have new 2002 Mazda Millenias for sale, on which they are giving incredible markdowns. For the same money, should I buy a 2002 Millenia with a V-6 & leather or a 2003 Honda Accord with a 4-cylinder engine & cloth interior?


Warren Brown: Dear Darnestown:
If you can get the Milennia with a V6 and leather at the same or lower price than a 4-cylinder Accord with cloth seats, go for the gravy....
unless you are feeling virtuous and want a car, the 4-cylinder Accord, that gets better fuel economy.


Washington, D.C.: Tell you what, if they'd have focused on emissions, I imagine that ad would have read a little different.

Sheez! Talk about twisting the facts. That really hurts Sierra Club's credibility on ANY subject, and it amazes me that they don't see the damage they're doing to themselves.

Warren Brown: Dear Washington:
I cannot agree with you more.
What amazes me is that these same people sat on their hands and said ABSOLUTELY NOTHING when Bill Ford became something of an outcast in his industry for publicly supporting their cause. Now, after Ford Motor has lost $500 million and when it literally is fighting for its life, these same jokers do what? Do they go after Mighty GM? No. Do they chastise Honda or Toyota for selling big SUVs with one hand while offering a few hybrid vehicles with the other? No. Do they go after a hypocritical Congress for refusing to help create a market for hybrids, either by offering federal tax credits or taxing gasoline? No.
This randy bunch of hypocrites attacks the one dude who has stood by their side.
What kind of impression do you think that will make on the other car companies that continue to give them the cold shoulder?


Silver Spring, Md.: Warren,
I am not sure when you got into test driving cars. What era of auto ranks as your least favorite? Ever get to drive such gems as the late 70's Plymouth Horizon, or the early 80's Chevy Citation and Chrysler Lebaron? How could anyone get suckered into buying one of those POS beaters!?

Warren Brown: That's easy silver Spring. It's the pitiful bunch of domestics that were introduced in the mid-1970s though the late 1980s.


Silver Spring, Md.: Warren,
Have you ever had to haggle to buy a car like us regular schmoes or are you recognized at dealerships you visit and given special treatment in hopes of getting a good word? Like you recent Mini purchase for example.

Warren Brown: Dear Silver Spring:
I haggle, and sometimes get you-know-what like everybody else. Indeed, I've got to go out of my way NOT to get the best deal; bnecause there is always som self-righteous twerp waiting around the corner ready to yell "Conflict-of interest!!"


Silver Spring, Md.: Warren,
Can you ever envision GM dropping the Corvete?

Warren Brown: I hope not.


Suitland, Md.: I drive a diesel car (VW Golf), and while I love that it has terrific gas mileage (42 mpg on my last fill up!) I hate the pollution. Any idea whether the US will be getting low sulfur diesel fuel anytime soon? Does it really make a difference in terms of the pollution?

Warren Brown: Hello, Suitland.
Yes, low-sulfur diesel in combination with the newest generation of diesel engines makes a big difference in the outflow of particulates and other harmful emissions. The EPA has moved to require low-sulfur diesel fuel for heavy-duty trucks. Here's hoping that it will find its way into passenger fleets in a few years.


Ellicott City, Md.: Love your columns and chats!! When may we look forward to your review of the Chrysler Pacifica? I am in the beginning stages of looking for the next family car and I don't want another minivan, an SUV or a station wagon. I want a sporty ride with luxury that won't break the bank. I'm thinking Chrysler may be trying to give me what I want. Thanks!!

Warren Brown: In two weeks, Ellicott. I want to take it on another run--both to challenge and confirm my biases.


Falls Church, Va.: Warren, Love these chats. Camry or Altima?

Warren Brown: Hello Falls Church.
Both are good cars, equal in many respects.
I prefer the Altima. It has what the Camry lacks---attitude.


Portland, Ore.: Here's another Europe-envy question for you: I just returned from Italy, and I am crazy in love with the Smartcar. It's the sweetest little thing on wheels that I have ever seen in my life; I've even picked out a color scheme (white with black trim -- the car looks like it's wearing a little automotive tuxedo). So: (1) is there any chance that Mercedes-Benz will bring it here, given the success of the Mini; and (2) is my husband right in thinking that it is too small to be safe here in the land of giant autos?

Warren Brown: Hello, Portland:
I very much want the Smartcar in the United States. Along with the likes of the Mini and the Mercedes-Benz A-Car, I think it's perfect for urban use--high mileage, low pollution, easy to park.
Alas, the U.S, has safety concerns--and potential litigation concerns that have to be addressed. Seems to me that all of those know-it-alls in the Sierra Club and Global Exchange ought to get behind getting those cars here. But those groups seem more adept at being agianst than being fro something. Okay, no more rants, unless provoked.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Warren:

Hope all is well. Do you agree with the theory that you should never buy a car in its first model year? Also, are all cars treated equal within a model year or does the manufacturer apply fixes throughout the production year?


Warren Brown: Dear Arlington:
No, I don't agree with that theory. As proof, I bought my wife's Mini in the first model year of that car. One year later, no problems.
Of course, there are variations on the theme. But the fear of first year thing stemmed from a now discarded product development and manufacturing system that wound up with more problems at the end of the assembly line than at the beginning. Now, most problems--MOST--are ironed out before the enew vehicle goes into regular production.


Alexandria, Va.: Warren,
Readers looking for an affordable, fun, and utilitarian car should take a look at the Mazda Protege5. I've had mine for just over a year, and I enjoy driving it more and more every day. In my opinion, a steal for just over 17 grand. VW Golf of Jetta Wagon shoppers owe it to themselves to take a look. Also, Mazda responded to an email inquiry of mine, and confirmed that the MAZDA6 Wagon and five-door are schedule to come on the market next spring. Hmm, I might have to trade...

Warren Brown: Thank you, Alexandria. Note to the Sierra Club: The Protege actually is a high-mileage car produced under the auspices of Ford.


Herndon, Va.: Warren,
Just wondering. When you are test driving a vehicle, do you confer with anyone who might be a target customer for that vehicle? In other words, when you test a minivan, do you talk to soccer moms to get an idea of what the would be looking for in an idea, vehicle?

Hope you are well!

Warren Brown: Herndon:
Here is my approach.
I eschew the Car & Driver, Motor Trend stuff.
I drive it as if I were paying the note.
I take it to its intended market, listen to what those good people have to say, work their ideas into my column.
Mostly, I strive to entertain and give you all a good read while telling you what you need to know about the car.


Charlotte, N.C.: Two weeks ago I asked you about your preference -- the new Jaguar XJ or Audi A8L. Now that both of your reviews have gone to press, please reveal the mystery.

Warren Brown: Hello, Charlotte:
The Jaguar XJ, the entire class--XJ8, XJR and Vanden Plas.
Here's why:
The XJ is a beautiful, reliable, fast, high-performance woman. I love women.
The Audi A8 L is just another fast guy.


Georgetown, Washington, D.C.: Have ever reviewed, or can you offer any advice, on the best car club to join?

My AAA membership is expiring, and I've been non-plussed.

Is there a better one out there?

Warren Brown: Deear Georgetown:
I must offer this disclaimer.
I am a longtime AAA member. I've always been pleased, happy with AAA service. I've tried other road services, dropped them, and returned to AAAA, where I intend to stay.
That's on me. It's not an endorsement. But, you asked.


Outside the beltway: Do you care to at least acknowledge that while (like nearly all advocates) the environmental groups take a very black-and-white, sometimes distorted position (again, like ALL advocacy groups), they perform a critical public service by raising awareness and creating pressure for change in the right direction. While they have no customers or shareholders, and while there's always the advocates paradox (if an advocate is successful, they lose their current livelihood), the motivations to resist change on the part of industry are far greater than the incentives to change. After all, let's not cry for a man who could burn a $100 bill every minute of his life and still not spend down his fortune.

Warren Brown: Dear Outside the Beltway:

I don't think that lies and deliberate distortions of the truth serve any good, whether those lies and distortions come from a journalist, a corporation, a church, a politician, or an environmental group.

Yes, I believe in advocacy. I've been an advocate of one thing or another all my life. Heck, I had to be an advocate; otherwise, I and people like me might still be standing behind "No Colored Alliowed" signs.

But no one is virtuous by virtue of being a victim, or by being on the "right" side of an issue. There are rules. The first is that you should do no damage to the truth in pursuing your cause, because once you embrace lies and distortions in puruit of your goal, the outcome is a lie.

I am saying that the Sierra Club, Global Exchange, Rainforest Action Network, and the ill-named, Hollywood-derived "Detroit Project" are engaging in the same lies and distortions they accuse the auto industry of using. If that's okay with you, so be it. It's not okay with me.

As for Bill Ford, yes, he can take care of himself. But does that make my charge any less true, any less justified? He is being used as a target of convenience by the very people he went out on a limb to support. There is something ignoble about that, something that should be condemned.


Lake Ridge, Va.: Millions of people ride motorcycles every day without incident, so a small car like the Smart ought not be a problem, as long as you watch out for the lumbering Slurpee-drinking phone-chatting Neanderthals who aren't watching out for you.

Maybe smaller cars with thinner doors would encourage people to pay more attention to driving? I dunno. Personally I wish they'd never put cupholders in cars.

Warren Brown: Point taken, Lake Ridge. The cup holders have become bath tubs.


Silver Spring, Md.: Warren,
How could the Ford marketing studies have been so wrong about the Thunderbird? I drove by a dealer in Gaithersburg and there were 5 new ones on the lot collecting water (no dust these days!) and no-one even looking at them!

Warren Brown: Marketing studies are almost always wrong. Look at Toyota and the Matrix. Toyota thought "young" people would be the main buyers. The reall buyers are 35 years old and over.


Where did you buy your MINI: Dear Warren,

Not really a car person, but love your column and chats. Just like I'm not under thirty but love Carolyn Hax. Nothing like pithy common sense adivce to get a good snort of laughter going.

My husband and I tried to "live up to the Brownses" and become a two MINI couple. We walked away from the deal because of the way the dealership treated us. May seem silly but paying a processing fee for them to sell you the car they are in the business of selling you got my goat. Is this going to be the case at all MINI dealers? After all, the highest price MINI is still thousands below a low end Beemer and a third of the price of the high end. Is the MINI so popular that we have to put up with their take it or leave it attitude (the salesman was fine it was when we went to the back room that the arrogance of the dealership reared its ugly head)? Or should we wait until the craze dies down? We've wanted a Mini since we hired one on our honeymoon twenty plus years ago. Tell me there's hope.

Warren Brown: That's not allowed. Can't tell you in this forum. That wopuld be seen as favoring one dealer over another. But if you write to me at warbro69@msn.com, I'll give you a personal answer.

Okay, good people. Gotta leave the plantation, er, Mount Vernon. See you all next week. Take care. God Bless.



That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.


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