Consumer Reports ‘Best New Cars’

Consumers reports has released it’s list of the best new cars for 2013, and you’ll be forgiven for yawning at the fact a Honda sits at the top of the list. Specifically, the 2013 Honda Accord.

Honda vehicles repeatedly make ‘best’ lists from a multitude of motor vehicle organizations. And for good reason. Honda vehicles are known to retain their value longer than just about any other vehicle. This has a great deal to do with their quality manufacturing process; Honda vehicles simply don’t break down as often as similar vehicles.

It doesn’t hurt that Honda vehicles also perform well. These vehicles, by and large, not only start out performing well, but continue to perform well throughout their lives. Mileage is among the highest in class, and this is another factor in their popularity.

Honda vehicles also boast some of the best features in the automobile industry including a wealth of safety features and some of the best auto-tech available in modern day vehicles.

Now, it is certainly worth mentioning that all these features, the high resale value and the general quality of the Honda vehicle line mean that consumers will likely pay a premium to drive one. Because a Honda holds its resale value so well, even if a consumer chooses to buy a used Honda they are still likely to pay much more for it than if they choose a different make and model.

If consumers are looking for good quality in a more reasonably priced vehicle, Consumer Reports recommends they visit their local Hyundai lot. The Hyundai Elantra was chosen by Consumer Reports as the ‘Best Budget Car’. Hyundai quality has greatly improved in the past decade and the variety of vehicles they build mean consumers have a wide assortment of vehicles sizes and specifications available. Since they don’t quite have the same resale value of Honda, and are not nearly as popular as Honda, for consumers looking to buy a more reasonably priced vehicle which still offers high quality would do well to look at Hyundai.

VW XL1 Gets 261mpg

The new VW XL1 is the car of the future, but how far in the future is anybody’s guess.

For instance, the vehicle is a hybrid that uses a small diesel motor to supply power for an electric generator to keep the battery charged. It also has a carbon fiber so it weighs about half as much as the average American sedan.

Like most highly fuel efficient vehicles the XL1 only seats two, so it’s not exactly a family car. And diesel fuel has not been popular among US new car buyers since the diesel fuel debacle on the 1980’s when diesel vehicles were clunky, noisy and belched a lot of black smoke.

Also, to save weight, only a cut-out in the window rolls down, not the entire thing, and perhaps worst of all, the vehicle has a top speed of just 99pmh.

For American consumers who have become increasingly addicted to power, size and speed, switching to the XL1 would be an extreme sacrifice. Forget about cross-country road trips with the kids–no room. And you might want to consider using an alternate vehicle if you are going to the airport because storage space too will be limited.

But for car buyers looking for the most economical commuter vehicle to get them back and forth to work, the VW XL1 might just fit the bill. With 261mpg you could make 6 trips back and fort to work (with an average of about 40 miles per trip) on just one gallon of diesel. Although diesel fuel is selling for about 50 cents more per gallon than gasoline that’s still a bargain. What remains to be seen, however, is the price tag. So far VW has not said how much they will be asking for the new XL1 nor how many they anticipate selling. Those are important questions for an automaker, but ones that VW seems willing to forgo for the moment in favor of showing off the world’s most fuel efficient vehicle.

Rabbits Wreak Havoc In Denver

Turns out, hungry bunnies like to eat electrical wiring. At least, they do in Denver, specifically the rabbits living near the Denver International Airport. Their victims are vehicles parked at the airport while their owners travel the world for business or pleasure.

Unfortunately for the bunnies, not only is electrical wiring not healthy (what, didn’t their mothers teach them to eat carrots?) but officials at Denver International Airport have decided the bunnies must go before more serious damage is done.

So far only three vehicle owners have reported damage as a result of the rabbit incursion. Considering there were more than 4 million different parking transactions at Denver International Airport last year, the rabbits clearly aren’t getting around as much as you might expect if you watch a lot of Bugs Bunny cartoons. But as far as DIA is concerned, three is clearly too many.

Denver International Airport officials have launched an all-out war against the rabbits which includes capturing and relocating the furry critters. So far this year the plan is to remove 100 of bunnies a month from the area, likely to be relocated some place where parked cars are not on the menu. They have also asked parking companies to install special fencing and barriers which will help make it more difficult for the bunnies to gain access to parked cars.

The DIA is also offering some free suggestions to people who park there and want to protect their vehicles from the rabbits. Specifically, what is being recommended is urine. Not just any urine, but the urine of an animal which is the rabbit’s natural predator, like a coyote or a fox. Believe it or not, animal urine is readily available at hunting stores.

So if you’re planning a trip out of Denver International Airport any time soon you might want to make a quick stop on your way to the parking area. Just try not to sniff the bottle for authenticity.

Can’t DIY With Most Of Today’s Car

You can change DIY (Do It Yourself) to CDIY, or Can’t Do It Yourself-the motto of most of today’s automobile owners.

Today’s cars are much more complicated than ever before. They don’t require ‘grease monkeys’ as much as they do IT professionals because most of your cars systems are likely computer controlled.

This is hardly new. In fact, computerized systems have existed in vehicles since the 1980’s, but not to the extent they currently do. Lift the hood of a 2013 model vehicle and the chances are you won’t recognize anything you learned about in auto-shop class in high school. Without a special piece of computerized system analysis equipment you won’t be able to know exactly what is wrong with your car, beyond “it won’t start.”

Gone are the days when you could clean a carburetor to keep your vehicle running right. If you start digging around under the hood of your new vehicle, and you don’t know exactly what you are doing, you are liable to do much more harm than good. Your ignition system, environmental control systems, even the vehicle stabilization and control systems are all wired together through a central processing unit, just like your desktop computer only with a lot more horsepower.

Some might say today’s vehicles suffer from an over-reliance on technology to do what yesterday’s cars did just fine with simple mechanical systems. But the truth is that today’s vehicles do a whole lot more-and a whole lot better — as a result of these technologies. You simply can’t have the same sort of driving experience with an older vehicle that you have in a new car. And those computer systems have a lot to do with it.

So before you pop the hood and try to solve your next vehicle issue alone, give serious consideration to taking it to a trained professional. You might save yourself a lot of headaches and a lot of money.

Ford Bets $1 Billion On Lincoln

Lincoln posted their worst sales in 32-months this past January, but Ford still believes the market is ripe for the picking and is investing $1 billion to turn the Lincoln luxury brand around and get those sales going in the other direction.

However, it is fair to expect some hiccups along the way and Ford is already dealing with its first batch. For instance, Ford says a lack of inventory available for its Lincoln MKZ model was responsible for the decline in sales last month. According to Ford the MKZ has more pre-orders than any vehicle in the company’s history. Demand is there, they say, but the supply has not been able to keep pace.

To help counter this they have begun shipping Lincoln MKZ models from their factory in Mexico to a plan in Michigan where they will inspect the vehicles to maintain quality.

The idea is sound: vehicles built in Mexico do not always meet the same standards as vehicles built north of the border. Ford knows this so they have taken steps to ensure that quality is paramount in their Lincoln brand. Without the level of quality luxury buyers have come to expect in a Lincoln having an abundance of vehicles available for them to buy is not going to help spur sales.

Luxury automobile buyers expect to pay more for their vehicles because the vehicles are higher quality. This quality then becomes the moniker of a “luxury” automobile. If the quality is not there, the buyers won’t be either. By making a commitment to maintaining their quality, but also making certain the supply is there for buyers, Ford is committing itself to keeping Lincoln alive without watering down the quality customers have come to expect.

‘Greenest’ Car of 2013

According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy the ‘greenest’ car of 2013 is the downsized Toyota Prius C. To be fair, the Honda Fit EV scored a very close second.

Both cars were rated based on their environmental impact (or lack thereof) using fuel economy and emissions data obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency. The council makes this list every year, and every year a different set of cars get the tag of having the “Right Stuff” or the “Green Stuff”.

Only cars which are being mass produced are considered for the list. This is so consumers can actually use the list to make their next new car purchase, if they so desire it. The idea is to rank the vehicles so it shows not just how environmentally sound they are but also how effective they are as a mode of transportation.

Consumers have expressed a very real desire for alternative fuel powered vehicles, but they are also showing that they are confused about just how ‘green’ these vehicles are and how they compare. They also have concerns about how reliable these vehicles are and whether or not, if they buy one, they will be able to find service for it if/when they need it.

As time goes by and vehicles such as the Toyota Prius return year after year and continue to boast improvements with each new model, consumers are slowly beginning to realize that these vehicles are here to stay and getting better all the time. If these vehicles continue to improve, and continue to build on their reputations as being reliable, better, alternatives to fossil fueled vehicles then it seems likely they will eventually win over more and more of the consumer automobile buying public.

Mazda Racing On Chicken Guts

The 2013 Rolex 24-Hour race in Daytona Beach might become famous for its fried chicken–no wait, we read that wrong. Actually, what just might make the Rolex 24-Hour Race famous is the fuel which will be powering the new Mazda6 SKYACTIV-D clean diesel race car: chicken fat.

The fuel is actually waste material from Tyson chicken plants, stuff that would have ended up in a landfill if not bought and used by Mazda in their race car. This is hardly the first time Mazda has sought to turn the spotlight on alternative fuel vehicles. They have a reputation for doing extreme engineering when it comes to alternative fuel powered race cars. Mazda was among the first to put a diesel powered race car on the track, and now they will become the first to put one on the track that runs on leftover chicken.

The idea is sound, and since we have an industrial food complex producing an abundance of waste, it’s renewable. Will we all one day be driving cars powered by chicken fat? Probably not. We don’t foresee the day when we pull into the local Kentucky Fried Chicken to fill our fuel tanks, but are big fans of alternative fuel for our vehicles. Assuming of course we can maintain the performance and reliability we have come to expect from our automobile.

The Rolex 24-Hour race is a grueling, punishing, event which pushes the drivers, engineers and vehicles to their extreme limit. It’s not enough to “go fast and turn left” when you are racing for 24-hours. Your car has to be able to endure maximum speed, hour after hour, for an entire day. During the day temperatures get hot, the track gets hot and the engines get hotter than Hades. At night the temperature drops significantly, and the chill can cause problems all its own.

If Mazda is able to pull off a win, or even just make it to the end of the race, it will not only be a win for their company, but also a win for alternative fueled vehicles.

‘Gen 6’ NASCAR Prototype Unstable

The next generation of NASCAR automobile is proving to be troublesome for drivers, after more than a third of the vehicles testing them in Daytona last week wrecked. That’s 12 of 35 cars on the track, smashed, bashed and crashed, sending all but one team back home to rebuild.

Some in the racing industry are already saying the new generation of NASCAR racer is more unstable than any previous version and not worth the effort teams are having to put in to get them ready to race. But not everybody is taking their toys and going home unhappy. Two dozen teams remain unscathed and continue to test in Daytona, learning to handle the new model race car; understanding its wants and needs when it comes to handling and performance.

Despite the wreck in Daytona and the grumbles from some team owners NASCAR has shown no interest in backing away from the Gen 6 vehicle. They say the new cars are safer, higher performing and will provide better racing action for the fans. After all, NASCAR is all about pleasing the fans, not the team owners or the drivers. If the fans don’t show up it doesn’t matter how great the cars are or whether or not they perform as promised.

When it comes to the next generation NASCAR racing vehicle ultimately it will be the fans who decide if it was a good move or not. If the fans liked the days when the drivers had more control of how well (or not) their cars performed on the track, then it seems likely they will be pleased. If the new cars suffer from too much trick and not enough track time for their favorite teams and drivers NASCAR might just have a problem on its hands–and Gen 7 cars will be right around the corner.

Electric Cars Here To Stay Or Passing Fad?

According to a new study by the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, American new car buyers simply aren’t interested in electric cars, whether hybrid or plug-in. The new study does seem indicate that new car buyers in certain cities are embracing electric cars. Places like Chicago, Boston and San Francisco are showing strong growth in electric car purchases, but this is not enough to sustain the entire industry, the study says.

Given that electric automobile sales across the board have been steadily growing does not seem to influence the authors of this new study. They say that President Barack Obama’s plan to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 is misguided at best.

However, it is important to note that the data for the just released study was collected in autumn of 2011, long before the most current fleet of hybrid electric and plug-in electric vehicles, with increased reliability and extended range hit the market. It was also before the new hybrid-electric Chevy Volt, with a range of nearly 400 miles hit the market.

Their study was also conducted long before the current crop of more than 11,000 electric charging stations were installed around the country. Cities such as Boston, New York, Los Angeles and Indianapolis have embraced electric vehicle technology and have begun installing hundreds of new electric charging stations around their downtown areas. Tesla Automotive has already begun installing a massive nationwide network which allow owners of their plug-in electric Tesla Model S vehicles to criss-cross the country without the need to rush home and recharge.

The Indiana University report data was also collected before Consumer Reports determined that electric vehicles have nearly the same depreciation rate as their fossil-fuel only cousins and began rating electric as higher value vehicles both for their reliability and quality craftsmanship.

Based on all the recent reports showing electric vehicle technology has so far surpassed gasoline technology and expectations, it seems way too early, and indeed shortsighted, to base a study on data collected before a new technology had hardly had a chance to begin.

‘Black Boxes’ For Cars One Step Closer To Mandatory

The National Transportation Safety Agency has once again put forward a plan to make secure, so-called ‘black box’ technology, mandatory on all vehicles, this time setting a deadline for the inclusion of these devices in all new cars starting in 2014. This technology is very similar to the devices currently in use in all aircraft, although the devices used in automobiles will not include a cockpit voice recorder or anything which records what the driver may or may not have been doing–just the automobile.

Already a great many automobile manufacturers use similar technology as part of the electronic integrated computer controlled environments of their vehicles. These devices have already proved their worth by recording vehicle information such as speed, sudden braking, turns or swerving. The devices only record this data in the last 30 seconds before the crash, so it is not as if the devices are recording every move you have made in your automobile, just the information which might have affected the crash.

Privacy advocates have said these devices are an infringement on personal privacy, but safety advocates say since the device is only recording a brief piece of driving information and then only in the event of a vehicle collision, there is no infringement on personal privacy. This information is usually determine through tactics used by police crash investigation teams. Using ‘black box’ technology there would be an immediate response to attempts to know exactly what happened.

In February the NTSA will allow a brief period for public comment on the issue of mandatory ‘black box’ technology, but it seems unlikely that any argument against the technology will prevent its eventual inclusive in all automobiles. The best advice for people who want information about their driving habits to stay secret beyond 2014 is to avoid having a vehicle collision.