Saturday, December 13, 2008

Top Gifts for Your Favorite Driver

There are some great gift ideas for people on your list who drive -- and that is all of us. So, instead of another pair of gloves or a scarf, look for things that can help make drives safer, more comfortable, and more fun.

I'm one of those short people whose neck gets chafed by seatbelts, so I would appreciate a cuddly soft wrapper to protect both my neck and the jewelry that sometimes decorates it. Brookstone to the rescue -- with a wrapper made from real Australian sheepskin. And you can't beat the price -- $12.95. The seatbelt cover is available in natural or charcoal color to match your vehicle's interior. There's also full sheepskin seatcovers for $79.95, and despite what you might think, they actually keep you cooler in summer.

Of course you would expect venerable gadget guru HammacherSchlemmer to have a something helpful for driving. The No Blind Spot Rear View Mirror is the same one used by many police officers and professional racecar drivers to eliminate blind spots. The mirror has a 180° field of view -- which is more than three times what standard mirrors offer, and does it all with a seamless and distortion-free image. But back-up cameras only show you the ground, not the traffic behind you on the highway -- this one does -- a panoramic view across an entire five-lane highway. That lets you see all the adjacent vehicles from the moment they begin to pass until they are visible in your peripheral vision. Consider it a $59.95 insurance policy.

Herrington offers a $29.95 multi-port device that plugs into your cigarette lighter socket, to power all your gadgets. Use it to run a laptop or portable DVD, or to recharge batteries while you drive. That's the 110-volt part of it. The USB port powers your iPod, Blackberry, PDA, or camera. There's an overload protector to prevent damage due to operating too much gear, and it's small enough to fit in the glovebox or storage bin in the center console.

Sometimes, we drive too far even in the garage. One trick is to rig a tennis ball on a string from the ceiling, so that you know to stop when the windshield bumps the ball. Or, just get a 'park stop' strip from Griot's Garage, a mini version of those concrete space markets in outdoor parking lots. Cost is $12.99, which is less expensive than the doctor bill for falling off the ladder when you try to tie a tennis ball on a string to your garage ceiling.

Happy holiday, and have many great drives.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ten Best Cars for 2009

What are the top ten cars of 2009? Every year, Car and Driver magazine announces its list of great drives, and even though the car industry is in a turmoil right now because of the economy, when selecting the world's most wanted automobiles, some things manage to stay the same.

Such as the BMW 3 Series, Honda Accord and Chevrolet Corvette being on the list again -- at least 15 times for each one in the 27 years the magazine has been issuing its 10Best list. Here they are, in alphabetical order --

  • BMW 3-Series/M3
  • Cadillac CTS (red car, top right)
  • Chevrolet Corvette
  • Honda Accord
  • Honda Fit
  • Infiniti G37
  • Jaguar XF (white car, top left)
  • Mazda MX-5
  • Porsche Boxster/Cayman
  • Volkswagen GTI

Despite the current headlines about potential bankruptcy, General Motors is the only American manufacturer to make the 10Best rankings, with two vehicles on the list -- the Cadillac CTS luxury sports sedan and the iconic Chevrolet Corvette, which continues its reign in the sports car category, selected for a 15th time.

First timers include the Infiniti G37 performance sports sedan, which underwent extensive changes to enhance its performance and handling, and the Jaguar XF, hailed by many for its modern styling and beautiful lines that distinguish it in its category. The Honda Fit that made the list this year is a redesigned version of the car that had been selected to the list twice before.

Other great drives which seem to have reserved parking on this list include the Honda Accord, recognized for a record 23rd time, and the BMW 3-Series, making its appearance on the Car and Driver list for a record 18 consecutive years. The Porsche Boxster roadster and its sibling Cayman coupe, and the Mazda MX-5 are on the 10Best list for the tenth year each. Rounding out the winners is the Volkswagen GTI, honored for the fourth time.

A winners are chosen by a panel of 19 Car and Driver editors who rate the cars on performance, driving satisfaction and value. The vehicles must be available in the United States and must cost less than $71,000. The list -- and more information about each model -- appears in the January 2009 issue, on newsstands in December.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tips for Safe Driving During the Holiday Season

We're all in a hurry at the holidays. But speeding is not the answer, and it most certainly is not safe driving. Speeding-related deaths kill approximately 13,500 Americans each year, according to the Governor's Highway Safety Association. And thousands more drivers, passengers and pedestrians are injured by speeding.
Here are five reasons you should not speed…

Save lives - Slowing down increases the likelihood you and your passengers will survive a crash. Each 1 percent decrease in travel speed reduces injury crashes by about 2%, serious injury crashes by about 3% and fatal crashes by about 4%.

Save money - Speeding reduces fuel efficiency, causing you to buy gas more often. The Department of Energy estimates that, as a rule of thumb, you can assume that each 5 mph above 60 mph you drive is like paying an additional $0.20 per gallon for gas.

Save the environment - According to Ford Motor Company, driving a vehicle at 65 mph consumes about 15% more fuel than driving the same vehicle at 55 mph. More fuel consumed means more CO2 released into the atmosphere.

Save yourself a ticket - Highway safety agencies and law enforcement crack down on speeders, especially during holidays. Obey the sign or pay the fine!

Save your license - A speeding ticket could lead to points on your driving record. Too many points and you could lose your license and your insurance premiums could go up.

Safe drives are great drives.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ford Introduces 2010 Fusion Hybrid

We haven't even turned the calendar pages to 2009 yet, and already the auto manufacturers are introducing 2010 models. Like the new Ford Fusion Hybrid, being introduced at the Los Angeles Auto Show in mid-November, where eco-friendly green drives are the big news.

There also is an all-new 'regular' gas-powered Ford Fusion and its sibling Mercury Milan. Both offer Ford's all-new Duratec 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that is expected to deliver at least 3 mpg better on the highway than the Honda Accord and 2 mpg better than the Toyota Camry.

Back to the hybrid. This is Ford's own technology, not Toyota's, which Nissan licensed for its well-received Altima Hybrid. Ford claims its next-generation hybrid system will deliver class-leading fuel economy, besting the Toyota Camry hybrid by at least 5 mpg in city driving.

With the addition of the Fusion and Milan hybrids, Ford doubles its hybrid fleet, adding to the Escape and Mariner hybrids. And with four hybrid models, Ford becomes the largest domestic producer of full hybrid vehicles in North America. The insanely popular Toyota Prius other Toyota and Honda hybrids are not from Detroit. But, you could say neither are the hybrid Fusions or Mariners -- they are built in Mexico.

The new Ford hybrids vehicles can accelerate up to 47 mph in pure electric mode, about twice as fast as some competitors. That can extend your driving range on a single tank of gas to more than 700 miles. That's pretty substantial mileage between fill-ups.

Back to the gas-powered models now. The Duratec four-cylinder engines are 175 horsepower, and there an optional 3.0-liter V-6 and a hefty 3.5 liter V-6 for the Fusion Sport model that pumps out 263 horsepower. Models with the smallest engine are expected to deliver at least 3 mpg better on the highway than the Honda Accord and 2 mpg better than the Toyota Camry.
All of the gas engine choices have six-speed transmissions, for up to a 10 percent fuel economy improvement.

With the new arrivals, Ford will be the producer of the most fuel-efficient mid-size sedans and SUVs in America -- and the Fusion Hybrid is expected to perform at least 5 mpg better on the highway than the Toyota Camry hybrid.

This is all good news for those thinking about buying a new car. And Ford needs all the good news it can get. That goes for all the auto manufacturers, too.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

All-Electric Motorcycle Runs on Zero Gas

The Zero Electric Motorcycle is a high performance, zero-compromise dirt bike that drives great on a specially-designed lithium-ion power pack and a handmade, aircraft-grade aluminum frame. It adds up to explosive acceleration and plenty of power off road.

The newest model is the 2009 Zero X, with an upgraded drivetrain, frame, suspension, brakes and wheels. So, it's even faster and stronger to race up hills, fly over jumps, and splash through streams, without the noise or pollution of conventional gas-powered dirt bikes.

The Zero X electric motorcycle is a high performance, zero-compromise electric dirt bike that utilizes a proprietary lithium-ion power pack, and a handmade aircraft grade aluminum frame to deliver surprising power and explosive acceleration. Since the 2008 model was sold-out, the arrival of the 2009 is just in time for fans of the Zero, who include James Denton, star of ABC's Desperate Housewives. He plays the hunky Mike the Plumber.

The new Zero X boasts a 23 horsepower electric motor, a total weight of 151 pounds, and 50 ft.-lbs of torque, double what the competition offers. So it's light enough and fast enough to keep pace with conventional gas off-road motorcycles without disturbing nature or neighbors.

The 3rd generation Zero X incorporates changes suggested both by pro riders and current customers. "It's another evolutionary leap forward", says Neal Saiki, inventor and founder of Zero Motorcycles.

The 2009 Zero X is priced at $7750, with an introductory price of $7450 through December 31, 2008. Orders received by the end of November will ship by year end -- perhaps even in enough time to put a red ribbon on it for Christmas. Right now, the only way to purchase the Zero is through the company website.

An environmentally friendly, green motorcycle. What will they think of next!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Clean-Diesel VW to Race in Baja 1000

Volkswagen is entering an all-new, purpose-built clean-diesel Touareg TDI in the 41st running of the Tecate Score Baja 1000. The driving team is motorsports veterans Mark Miller and Ryan Arciero

Miller has been a dominant force in off-road racing for two decades, including several wins in the Trophy Truck category of both the Baja 1000 and the Baja 500. Arciero won the grueling 1000, a 600 mile-plus race, in 2004. Currently, he is a VW factory driver and was instrumental in the inaugural season of the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup Series, where he coached and mentored a group of thirty up and coming talented young drivers on what it takes to succeed in the world of professional motorsports.

A few years ago, I helped out in a so-called 'chase' car, which provides support for drivers, in the Baja 500, and let me tell you, this is no Sunday drive to grandma's house. We drove over blistering hot dry lake beds, bumped across severely rutted unpaved tracks, and hairpin turns on paved mountainous roads. And I was in a production-model vehicle, with comfortable seats and shock absorbers -- not like the specially adapted racing models these guys are driving.

The VW Touareg TDI is riding on BFGoodrich Tires. Other sponsors include Red Bull, , Dow Automotive, Oakley eyewear, KMC Wheels and Fox Shocks.

VW and BFGoodrich also are sponsoring a first-of-its-kind website to track the race with real-time information, inclusing by text updates to your mobile phone, and streaming video.

The 2008SCOREBaja1000 web site goes live on Nov. 19, 2008 with a countdown clock. Race tracking will begin at 6 a.m. PT/ 9 a.m. ET on Nov. 21.
Racers, start your engines. Viewers, keep your eyes protected from the dust.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Race Cars of the Future -- What Will They Look Like?

Today’s race cars have ground-breaking technology to improve speed, power, performance and safety. Many features we rely on today -- ABS, traction control, even lightweight aluminim engines -- were developed and tested on the racetrack and then trickling down to the automobiles we mere mortals drive. So, it's a good idea to peek into the future and see what designers and engineers are planning now, for the future.

Nine of Southern California’s automotive design studios have been busy predicting how auto racing will change by the year 2025. Their designs are part of the fifth annual Los Angeles Auto Show’s Design Challenge. Here's what the designers and engineers have come up with -- in alphabetical order --

Audi -- (photo right) The Audi R25 incorporates innovative features such as high-velocity banks and tunnels, which allow cars to race “inverted” and the opportunity to pass anywhere with aerodynamic racecars.

BMW -- The BMW Hydrogen Powered Salt Flat Racer reuses existing, ordinary materials such as old oil barrels and BBQ lids, and 'employs' goldfish as “co-pilots” to ensure that the vehicle is running clean emissions. This is a sustainable vehicle -- how it's built, and the fuel that propels it.

General Motors -- The GM Chaparral Volt collects and generates its own energy from three different clean, renewable and abundant California resources: Earth, Wind and Fire. The futuristic Volt creates what GM is describing as entirely new category of racing - the eco-triathlon.

Honda -- The Great Race 2025’s sonar/echolocation sensors can detect changes in speed, terrain, and altitude. That allows the vehicle to switch to any configuration to circumnavigate the globe in 24 hours on land, by sea or by air. Another triathlon -- it drives, it sails, it flies.

Mazda -- The MAZDA KAAN is an electric race car with a patented electronic tire system to reach 250 mph with no harmful emissions.

Mitsubishi -- The MMR25 is a multi-terrain vehicle with omni-directional wheels with eight independently-controlled motors. This allows for what Mitsu is calling “8 x 4” wheel drive, and it means you can drive the car forwards even while it's pointed backwards or sideways. Now, if they could design something that can get me sideways while pointed forwards, I could get in and out of a tight NYC parking space a lot easier.

Mercedes-Benz -- (photo middle) The Formula Zero Racer incorporates Formula One speed with the track dynamics of the bobsled or luge, and the grace and efficiency of yacht racing. So there.

Toyota -- The Le Mans Racer is the ultimate race car that never needs to stop. It is powered by highly efficient hydrogen fuel cell electric motors, and each of its body panels is embedded with photovoltaic panels that supply electricity when extra energy is needed. The world's first hydrogen-solar vehicle! It doesn't get more green. Even the Prius needs gas occasionally. This could solve the world's energy crisis.

Volkswagen -- (photo left) In the Bio Runner, the driver is positioned inside a protective cage on a motorcycle-like saddle, with controls attached to the hands and feet. The controls manipulate all wheels via synthetic muscle-based suspension which offers unparalleled control and traction. Sounds like fun to drive.

And which of these futuristic designs is the best? The competition winner is being announced at the LA Auto Show on Nov. 20, 2008. I'll be there.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Best Cars and Features for Older Drivers

The fastest growing segment on the road today is not hybrids or flex-fuel vehicles, crossovers or performance sport sedans. It is drivers 65 and older. According to the according to the American Automobile Association, there are 29 million older drivers on the road today.

We all age differently, so it is important to recognize how your body is changing, not just at the gym or on the tennis court or ski slope, but behind how you drive:

Age 40 -- multi-tasking becomes more challenging, such as concentrating at the same time on the navigation system and the traffic in front of you. Also, recovery from glare is reduced, which affects your comfort level driving at night.

Age 60 -- muscle strength and range of motion decrease by as much as 25 percent. That affects your ability to get in and out of the vehicle, and how easily and far you can turn around in the driver seat to check conditions in the blind spot.

Age 70 - arthritic joints can make it difficult to grasp the steering wheel, and diabetes, stroke or Parkinson’s disease can affect perception.

And, any time, conditions such as hip or knee surgery, further affect mobility. But it’s not all bad news. AAA and the University of Florida’s Older Driver Research and Training Center have identified vehicle features that address these conditions, to help us drive safely and comfortably in the so-called mature years. Although the report is called “Smart Features for Mature Drivers”, many of these features work for anybody considering buying a new car soon, whether that's a 2009 model, or a certified pre-owned used car.

Here are some features that work for all of us --
  • four-door vehicles, since doors are lighter and easier to open than two-door coupes.

  • performance sports models usually have seats with more heavily padded side and thigh bolsters, which are more difficult to get into and out of than vehicles with flatter seats,

  • heated seats with lumbar support are great for anybody at any age with back pain,

  • for drivers with reduced leg strength or mobility, a higher SUV can be easier to get in and out of than a sedan, since its higher seat reduces bending. Or, you might do better with a vehicle with a lower door, such as a minivan,

  • keyless entry and keyless ignition are more than convenient – they prevent the difficulty or pain caused by having to turn a key. Also, a thick steering wheel requires less hand and wrist strength to grip and handle to make turns. And this turns out to be a smart feature also for younger drivers who make long, daily commutes.

  • power mirrors and seats are easier to adjust for drivers with limited strength or arthritis,

  • power trunk or tailgate closers are as helpful to mature drivers with limited arm strength as they are to younger drivers juggling squirming toddlers.

  • dashboard design is important, too. Large, clear, easy-to-read numbers on the speedometer and odometer are important, especially to drivers wearing bifocals. Larger audio and climate controls with buttons are easier to manipulate than knobs, especially for drivers with vision affected by glaucoma or cataracts, or whose “fine motor skills” are diminishing.

  • a navigation system that is relatively uncomplicated also reduces distraction.

  • large, wide angle side mirrors and rear-view mirrors help compensate for limited range of motion or difficulties twisting to check for blind spots while merging or backing up.

  • a rear camera to aid with backing up is a helpful option to consider, as are radar-based systems that assist with parking and maintaining distance from the vehicle in front on the highway – what’s known as collision avoidance systems.

Vehicles with Smart Features for Mature Drivers come in all price ranges. More about those down the road in a future posting.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Beautiful Cars Make Great Art

It's not too early to start thinking about a gift for the favorite car enthusiast in your life -- even if that's yourself. Great cars are beautiful -- especially classic drives from the past. All bold, sculptured flashing chrome and graceful curves of metal -- subjects for fine art photography.

The online art marketplace is offering a selection of automotive and motorcycle prints and originals, starting at under $100. Like the image shown here, called, simply, Blue Car. Well, to me it looks turquoise, which was a color popular in the 50s for Chevys and Fords, like the classic '55 Chevy Bel Aire this just might be a close-up of.

Automotive art typically falls into a few categories --
  • So-called beauty shots that usually are very close-up, focusing on a single feature such as a beautiful hood ornament or such into a striking tight,
  • Detailed fine art photographs that show every nuance of the car's design,
  • Nostalgia artworks that set a mood or capture a feeling, such as the freedom of the open road before nagivation systems that speak,

Some of these art pieces are photos, either straightforward and some digitally enhanced. Others are paintings. All are interesting.

Take a look.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Drive a Nissan GT-R on Your Sony PlayStation 3

Nissan's all-new super-hot GT-R super sportscar is already pretty much sold out for the 2009 model year. But you can get behind the wheel of this great drive -- on a Sony PlayStation 3.

Nissan has made an unusual marketing move, allowing the interiors of the eagerly awaited sportscar to be copied for an early version of the Gran Turismo 5 racing classic game. It's also a marketing move by Sony, which racing down the straightaway against Microsoft Xbox.

According to the advertising and marketing newsletter, news about the new game revved up up with a mix of word-of-mouth, emails to the GT and Nissan databases, updates on the Gran Turismo website, Facebook pages and online ads. Registrants raced virtual laps of a specific racetrack, in a specific car, on on their PlayStation consoles.
Here's where the game gets real --

The two fastest drivers -- er, players -- will represent Team Nissan in the 24-hour endurance race in Dubai in January 2009, after an eight-month training program.

So, you must be asking -- what about the car? The real car? Glad you asked.

The GT-R is a head-turner, with a 480-horsepower, twin-turbo 3.8-liter V6 engine and an advanced 6-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. MSRP is $69,850. I much prefer the real car to the game car.

Actually, this is the latest supercar to be launched on the small screen. Last year, the equally fabulous Audi R8 made its debut in the hit movie "Iron Man".

Monday, October 20, 2008

Is Your Teen a Safe Driver?

Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for young people in the U.S. So, the question is -- how safe a driver is your teenager? Could he or she be a better, safer driver? And how can you help your teen drive more sensibly and safely?

Congress has designated October 19-25 as National Teen Driver Safety Week, a good time to think about the causes and solutions to teen accidents and car crashes.

There's an excellent program called Driving Skills for Life with advice for parents, teens and teachers, too. It is sponsored by the Ford Motor Company and the Governor's Highway Safety Association. The website has such obvious advice as slow down, don't drink and drive, and also a collection of videos by celebrities including some famous NASCAR racers, on how to drive more safely.

It's a great website for you and your teen to surf together -- especially the 3D driving challenge. No, it's not an animated video game -- it's more like a test on which rules of the road you remember from your own driving test way back whenever you took it. Call it a digital video car coach and driving coach.

Rules on teen driving vary from state to state -- so check Governor's Highway Safety Association website to find out what the rules are where you live.

Safe drives are great drives.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Toyota is First Green Dealership in Western USA

We already know about the great drives from Toyota -- the best-selling Prius hybrid and the Camry hybrid. Now, Toyota has the first green car dealership in the Western USA, also the first and only LEED-Certified car dealership in Utah.

Mark Miller Toyota in Salt Lake City was designed from the ground up with environmental standards in mind, using construction elements designed to conserve both energy and water, and construction uses lots of local and recycled materials -- including recycled windshield glass pulverized into use as a carpet backing. How's that for ingenuity -- your footsteps are cushioned by smooshed glass.

Some other eco-friendly construction and design elements include --
  • A high-performance, high-efficiency heating and cooling system;

  • Innovative sun-tracking skylights that make the most of natural daylight and help reduce use of lights inside

  • A cool-roof system to lower the overall heat that comes off large buildings

  • Landscaping that requires a minimal amount of water

  • Low-flow faucets and toilets and waterless urinals to conserve water

  • A cistern system to collect and store rainwater and air conditioning
    condensation for irrigation and for washing cars

  • High-speed glass service bay doors to reduce heat and cold loss from
    service areas at the same time they provide additional light to the interior

  • Recycled materials used in tile, carpeting, wood paneling and cubicles

  • A full-service cafe as well as a fuel facility on-site so employees and customers won't
    have to drive to get something to fill their bellies or their tanks.

Another feature of the dealership is a display that shows the building's energy use over the last half hour or so. It's the same kind of energy panel drivers of Toyota hybrid cars know well.

The dealership has applied for and expects to be awarded a Gold LEED certification in the next few weeks. Just so you know -- LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It is a voluntary program designed to promote and validate environmental leadership in the building industry. It's tough to get LEED certification -- there's an extensive application and review process, and you have to re-certify regularly to keep your eco-friendly status. As far as LEED certification is concerned -- you can honestly say (apologies to Kermit) it's not easy being green!

Pat Lobb Toyota in McKinney, Texas was the first dealership to earn LEED certification in 2006. Besides Mark Miller Toyota, five other Toyota dealerships in the country are built and either have received or are in the process of being reviewed for LEED certification. Three additional dealerships seeking LEED certification are under construction with several more in the design and planning stages.

So thank you, Toyota, for making great green drives and great green car dealerships, too.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Drive Smarter and Save Gas

Yea, yea, I know -- the price of a barrel of oil is dropping, and so is the price of a gallon of gas. But, since the value of your stocks, 401k and IRA also are dropping, this is no time to return to the gas guzzling habits of old. Save gas, save money with these fuel economy tips.
  • Watch your speed. Your car creates the most pollution when driving at less than 15mph, and pollution decreases up to 60mph. After that, it increases again.

  • Take roof-racks off when you don't need them, since they create wind drag. Ditto driving with the windows open -- also creates drag that reduces fuel efficiency.

  • Take the junk out of the trunk -- remove unneccessary items from the car, such as tool boxes, golf clubs and bicycles to reduce weight.

  • Remember your RPMs -- Keeping the engine speed between 1,200 and 3,000 rpm will help improve fuel efficiency of whatever you are driving.

  • Keep your distance from the car in front. Sharp braking wastes fuel.

  • Maintain your car properly. Have the engine tuned, change air filters and keep the tires properly inflated to reduce friction.

  • Consolidate your trips --if you are picking up the kics from school, do the shopping on the way, in the same trip.

Some other things to remember --

  • When you turn on something electric in the car, it increases fuel consumption. There is only one source of energy in the car, and that's the fuel tank. Don't over-use some electric features, such as the rear-window heater, or even the heated seats that make nice to your lower back pain.

  • Keep the inside of your car windows squeaky clean. This stops the windows misting up, so that you don't need to use the rear-window heater or the air conditioning to dehumidify the car.

  • If you've got a garage, use it -- that's because if it takes you 10 minutes to warm up your car in cold weather, it's costing you around ten cents a minute.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

New BMW 7 Series Costs $160,000

The Stock Market is tanking, not just in the US, but markets around the world, too. Our IRA, 40lK and Keogh investments have lost significant value in the last few weeks. We are worried about losing our homes, keeping our jobs, and getting the kids -- even the grandkids -- through school. And smack in the middle of these dismal headlines, BMW wants to sell us a $160,000 7 Series sedan. That's not a great drive -- that's a great insult.

In all fairness, this is a special edition Beemer, being sold through the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book. In past years, this annual catalogue of conspicuous consumption and over-the-top excess has offered things like matching his and her helicopters. And, in all fairness, this limited edition six-figure BMW was planned before the world economy slammed on its brakes.

This 7 Series is based on a 750Li, customized by BMW Individual. Only 31 of these limited edition cars are being produced -- that's to honor the 31st anniversary of BMW's flagship 7 Series. Yay! Happy $160,000 birthday, 7 Series.

Okay, so part of the riduculous price includes a European vacation that begins in Munich, where owners pick up their new Beemer at BMW Welt, the company's factory and auto museum complex, including a behind-the-scenes VIP tour . The lucky 31 then get to drive on what BMW describes as a "multi-city lavish vacation in the South of France," including Monaco, Nice and Cannes. And when this lavish vacation is done, BMW will ship your 7 Series to the United States. Hopefully, they'll put a pretty ribbon on it.

$160,000 for a car and a vacation. Something those Wall St. guys with the golden parachutes can afford. Not the rest of us.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Top Five Wagons for 2009

Forget the minivan. Forget the SUV. The newest great drive is the old-fashioned family wagon, updated with modern styling, plenty of power under the hood, plenty of room for the kids and the dog, plus excellent handling and state-of-the-art safety features.

The 2009 models are arriving in showrooms now. Here are the five top wagons, as chosen by the editors at, the vehicle pricing and information website.

1. 2009 Mazda MAZDASPEED3 GT
The top wagon pick is for its fun and sporty styling, spacious interior -- enough to haul friends, family, groceries and golf clubs in one shot -- and a racy turbocharged inline 4-cyl that generates 263 hp under the hood. The MAZDASPEED3 GT -- pictured here -- easily jumps off the line as hip and practical. And, it's a best buy at under $25K competition.

2. 2009 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen 2.0L TDI
If you're looking for a new station wagon that will run forever and gets great gas mileage, this is the model for you. The TDI in the name indicates it's a diesel. This one gets impressive EPA estimates in the 29 City/40 Highway range). And the SportWagen name tells you this model will give you traditional German performance and handling. also was impressed with its top-notch interior, and its sub-$25K price tag, which only seals the deal.

3. 2009 Saab 9-3 Aero AWD Wagon
When they say engineered from jets, they mean it. The 2009 Saab 9-3 Aero SportCombi Wagon has a 280 hp 2.0L turbocharged V6 and optional AWD. In this category, people might opt for a BMW, Audi, or Mercedes badge, but they'd be missing out on something special, according to, which calls this a great looking wagon with a laundry list of standard equipment.

4. 2009 BMW 5-Series Sport Wagon 535xi
Handling and performance make it hard to believe this eager Beemer is a wagon, but it is and, according to the editors at, "every bit what a BMW should be." The AWD-equipped, 300 hp-enabled, twin turbo-charged inline 6-cylinder-powered luxury car offers more than 58 cubic feet of space when the back seats are folded -- larger than some mid-sized SUVs.

5. 2009 Mercedes-Benz E Class 6.3L AMG Wagon
Rounding out the top five is this wagon, priced at $86,000 plus, thanks to its AMG heritage. Steep, for sure, but what you get is thrill-a-minute driving performance with beautiful styling thrown in. A sports wagon, for sure, with a 507 hp 6.3L V8 that generates 465 lb-ft of torque, as well as a 7 paddle-shifted automatic transmission, a sport suspension for improved handling and optional seating for seven. Make sure they are all buckled in, and then floor it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Ford Model T Celebrates 100th Birthday

It was one hundred years ago today -- on October 1, 1908 -- that Henry Ford put the very first Model T on the road. So happy birthday Model T. For better or worse, you changed the world -- an iconic vehicle, a great drive with lasting impact on all of us.

Here are some of the ways --

The Model T officially ushered in the age of the "horseless carriage", and a burst of technical innovations that jump-started the aumotibile industry. More than 15 million Model T's were produced, including the 1924 Tourer pictured here. By 1921, the Model T accounted for an astounding 56% of the world's automobile production, and since it was manufactured in several countries and had dealerships in six continents, you could call the Model T the world's first global car.

Henry Ford essentially invented the assembly line to produce the Model T, and that manufacturing efficiency lowered the price of a car enough that most people could afford. In 1908, the first Model T cost $825. By 1925, it sold for only $260.

The Model T is responsible for establishing a minimum wage and the eight-hour work day. The factory work also gave jobs to people who usually could not find work, such as immigrants, women, minorities and people with disabilities, and helped create a middle-class.

Model T owners were able to personalize their vehicles with accessories. Now, that is called the aftermarket supplier industry, and it's a $38 Billion industry. So any time you see a car with custom hubcaps or pin-striping, or a dealer-installed audio system, you can thank the Model T, which started the customization trend.

By 1925, Ford was building its first factory-produced domestic pickup truck - the Ford Model T Runabout - with a pickup body. There also was a heavier-duty, one-ton-rated Model TT pickup that is a grand-daddy of today's F-Series Super Duty.

The Tin Lizzie had a top speed of 40-45 mph, from a front-mounted, 2.9-liter, four-cylinder, engine, and it was the best-selling vehicle ever, until 1972 when the VW Beetle finally surpassed it. More than 20 years later in 1999, a panel of 126 automotive experts from 32 countries still chose the Model T as the most influential car of the 20th century.

So Happy 100th Birthday Ford Model T.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Corvette Museum Honors Military Veterans

The National Corvette Museum hosts the first “Vets ‘n Vettes” event to recognize the American men and women, many of who are Corvette owners, who serve in uniform. The event is schedule for November 7-8, 2008, as part of the museum’s Military Appreciation Month and Veterans Day.

The event is open to everybody, whether you own a Corvette or wish you did, or if you just want to participate in the two day festivities and tour the museum and Corvette Assembly Plant, in Bowling Green, Kentucky, including the annual Veterans Day parade on Saturday. There's also the opportunity to take a great drive -- a scenic road tour -- to Ft. Knox to tour the Patton Museum of Armor.

The Corvette Museum features more than 70 rare and classic 'Vettes plus concept models that never made it into production, plus the one-millionth Corvette produced. A current exhibit is called Three -- it features one Corvette of each model year ending in the number "3" - 1953, 1963, 1973, 1983, 1993, 2003 -- including the 1983 Corvette pictured here.

By the way -- the National Corvette Museum is not a General Motors museum. This is a member-driven, non-profit foundation dedicated to "continuing the mission of education, preservation and celebration of the Corvette’s past, present and future heritage" The mission statement does not use the words 'iconic American sports car'. It should, because it is.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chrysler Goes Electric and It's a Gem

Clean and green gets a new meaning with this great drive from Chrysler, through its GEM division.

GEM electric carts are popular transportation on golf courses and sprawling resorts where guests and their luggage need to be shuttled to far-flung villas, and for shuttling employees and supplies on college and corporate campuses. In the the famous Alpine village of Zermatt, Switzerland, where vehicles are not permitted, call a taxi and what you get is an electric cart.

But those don't look like the new Peapod design -- shown here -- that will be produced starting in 2009. GEM is headquartered in Fargo, N.D. It was founded ten years ago.

This is a pure electric vehicle -- just plug it, charge it up, and go. No gas, no emissions, no fuss.

Designs like this used to be called NEV -- for Neighborhood Electric Vehicle, and the neighborhoods included planned communities like retirement communities where people drive them to visit neighbors and get to the supermarket. But Chrysler is re-designing the NEV tag, too. The new name is 'GreenEcoMobility' - how clever for Chrysler to use the GEM acronym for the new generation of an existing concept -- the electric golf cart.

Yes, it is sleek and streamlined. Reminds you of the Smart fortwo, doesn't it. Maybe the success of that energy efficient little gem -- marketed by a division of Chrysler's former corporate mate, Daimler-Benz -- inspired and encouraged the 'divorced' Chrysler.

And just as Smart fortwo is now available in a four-passenger version, there are plans for larger Peapod models as GEM expands its 'no-gas, no-emissions' clean vehicle lineup. Regular GEMs are available in two-, four- and six-passenger models, as well as a utility vehicle. They have a top speed of 25 miler per hour and a range of 30 miles per charge -- more than enough to get you to and from the supermarket and the commuter rail station, although they are not street-legal everywhere because of their limited speed. Stay off the Interstate! And they can be recharged overnight in any standard 110-volt outlet.

Unlike ordinary golf carts, the new GEM Peapod has a trend-setting center console that will offer iPod integration and hands-free iPhone use.

GEM vehicles have been driven a combined 200 million miles and prevented more than 150 tons of pollutants from reaching the air, while saving 10 million gallons of gasoline.

Sweet Peapod!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Seatbelt Use Reaches Record Level

More Americans are buckling up than ever before. That's good news! It means our great drives are also safe drives.

According to the U. S. Department of Transportation, 83 percent of vehicle occupants are using seatbelts during daylight hours, slightly more than last year. Simply, the seconds it takes to buckle up can mean the difference between life and death.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that some 270 lives are saved for every one percent increase in belt use.

The 83% seatbelt usage is an average. According to the report, 84% of passenger car occupants are buckling up, and even more people - 86 percent, are buckling up in vans and SUVs. The lowest seatbelt use is in pickup trucks, where occupants buckled up 74 percent of the time. So, come on you truck drivers and passengers -- get with the program. You won't be any less macho if you buckle up, but you will travel a whole lot smarter.

DOT also broke down the seatbelt numbers by geography. The highest use was reported in the West (93 percent), and the lowest in the Midwest and Northeast (79 percent). The South was in between at 81 percent.

A growing number of states now have what's called 'primary' seat belt laws. That means you can be stopped and cited for not buckling up. In states with 'secondary' seat belt laws, you have to be stopped for something else, and the law enforcement officer can add in the seat belt violation. So, it's not surprising that in 'primary' states, seat belt use is around 13% higher than in 'secondary' states -- 88 percent vs. 75 percent).

The report also notes that belt use on expressways is now at an estimated 90 percent while belt use on lower-speed “surface” streets remains at 80 percent. Also makes sense -- we travel faster on highways. Okay, maybe not in rush hour, on the I-405 in Los Angeles, or on New York City's Long Island Expressway, which locals call 'the world's longest parking lot'.

Remember, these figures are for daylight use. I wonder why NHTSA doesn't collect information on night-time use of seatbelts. And I also wonder how different that would be.

If the numbers here aren't enough, you can see the full report on the NHTSA website.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ford Ka Stars in Latest James Bond Movie

007 is more famous for driving -- and wrecking -- luxury cars like the Aston-Martin than he is for squeezing his hunky frame into a sub-compact. We'll have to wait for the latest James Bond adventure epic, "Quantum of Solace" to see his relationship with the tiny Ford Ka, a model popular in Europe and Latin America, but not sold in the United States.

Ford's cheeky little Ka makes its screen debut alongside the film's beautiful but feisty leading lady, Olga Kurylenko, who plays Camille, a woman with her own personal mission and who quickly becomes an unlikely ally for Bond.

The movie star Ka is unique with metallic gold paint and an exclusive exterior graphics and interior trim combination. Ford of Europe's Chief Operating Officer, Stephen Odell describes it as the "perfect match for the character of Camille - adventurous, individual and thoroughly modern." A proper gentleman, he does not describe any of Camille's features as sub-compact.

This is not the first Ford to star in a James Bond movie. The Ford Mondeo appeared in the 2006 blockbuster, 'Casino Royale', which introduced blue-eyed Daniel Craig as the latest in a long line of actors portraying Mr. Stirred-Not-Shaken.

'Quantum of Solace' opens in the UK and France on October 31st, then elsewhere November 7th.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hybrid Technology for Trucks, Too

While we've all been focused on getting better gas mileage out of the cars we drive, or trading in the guzzler in the driveway for a green, fuel efficient hybrid, the automotive industry has been quietly and successfully turning out hybrid trucks.

Take Volvo. Garbage trucks aren't necessarily newsworthy, but Volvos's first hybrid refuse truck most definitely is. The truck division of the Swedish carmaker is taking an important step towards commercial use of hybrid technology for heavy vehicles by launching two hybrid refuse trucks that are being tested in regular daily operations, on refuse collection runs in the cities of Renova and Ragn-Sells.

Hybrid busses have been working the roads in cities around the world, including in my own hometown New York City. But this hybrid garbage truck is a first. "This is the last stage in the evaluation of our hybrid solution ahead of production launch," said Staffan Jufors, president and CEO of the Volvo Truck Corporation, launching the test drive. "Since we presented our first concept vehicle in 2006, we have seen considerably heightened market interest in this technology. What makes our solution unique is that it is sufficiently powerful to drive heavy vehicles, and more cost-effective than all other current alternatives. It is these characteristics that determine whether a hybrid can be commercially viable."

The phenomenal rise in the price of gasoline and diesel fuel in the last 12 months makes seals the deal, Mr. Jufors. That's why you also announced that Volvo will start producing hybrid trucks in 2009.

Volvo's hybrid solution combines a diesel engine with an electric motor, with the electric motor being used for moving off from standstill and for acceleration up to 20 km/h. At higher speeds, the diesel engine is activated. Just so you know -- Mercedes-Benz is studying diesel hybrids for passenger cars. Volvo already has the technology ready for trucks -- but I haven't heard anything about whether they are studying this alternative fuel possibility for passenger cars, too.

The hybrid refuse trucks are expected to use up to 20 percent less fuel and cut carbon dioxide emissions by a similar amount. Also, trucks can run the compactor off an extra battery pack that is charged when the truck is parked overnight. And that, my friends, further reduces emissions -- to a grand total of as much as 30 percent over conventional gas-powered trucks.

Electric power has the added advantage of being entirely exhaust-free and virtually noise-free. That's another important consideration for refuse collection trucks that usually operate early in the morning, waking up the neighbors. Eventually, Volvo plans to make hybrid trucks for long-haul and construction work.

What do you know -- a green garbage truck. What will they think of next!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Buy? Lease? New or Certified Pre-Owned?

The astronomical rise in gas prices over the last year has us all rethinking what we drive – and how often. If you are wondering whether to buy or lease your next automobile, there's lots to consider before you sign on that proverbial dotted line -- including whether your new great drive is one of the new '09 models arriving in dealer showrooms now, an new '08 left-over, or a certified pre-owned.

That's the the opening paragraph of an informative article in the current issue of Pink Magazine. Read it -- I wrote it. September/October issue, on newsstands now.

By the way -- did you know that women influence 85 percent of all vehicle purchases.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Oprah's Classic Cars at Pebble Beach

The fabled and fabulous Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance is this weekend, August 16 and 17, in Moterey, California. It's the place to be if you love vintage and classic cars -- which I do -- and have a couple of million dollars burning a hole in hour pocket -- which I do not. Some of the cars on display this year are owned by Oprah Winfrey.

Look at them quick, before they are sold. Three vehicles from Oprah's private collection are being auctioned by Gooding & Company, to benefit the Leadership Academy for Girls, her school in South Africa. Being auctioned are:
  • Her 1954 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing -- pictured here. It was owned originally owned by the DuPont family. This is the sexy icon sports car that everybody wants, including me.

  • A 1988 Rolls-Royce Corniche II Convertible, which was a gift to Oprah from her long-time friend, actor John Travolta. Since he's also a pilot, and even though Rolls-Royce makes jet engines, maybe the Corniche just isn't fast enough for him.

  • There's also a 1997 Aston Martin DB7 Volante, like the ones James Bond drives in the movies.

It's not just Oprah's cars on the auction block. There's a collection vintage Bugattis, owned by Dr. Peter and Susan Williamson, which is generally regarded to be the world's finest collection of these legendary sports cars and racecars. There's a dozen of them on the auction block, expected to bring in $15 million. Do the math -- that's more than one million dollars per car. Most of the proceeds will benefit the Dartmouth Medical School. The annual Pebble Beach event raises some $10 million for charity.

Some 100 other cars are on the auction block, too. They include --

  • the legendary 1959 Ferrari 250 GT ‘California’ Spider
  • the acclaimed 1934 Triumph Dolomite 8C 2400 Super-Charged Grand Sport
  • a rare 1938 ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Alfa Romeo 6C
  • the original 1914 Stutz Series E Bearcat

Oh, I wish I had the money and a garage big enough to hold these vintage, classic beauties. Great drives, each and every one.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hydrogen Cars Drive Across USA

It's called Hydrogen Road Tour '08. A fleet of these alternative fuel vehicles, a combination of concept cars and production models from several manufacturers, are driving from Portland, Maine to Los Angeles to prove that hydrogen powered cars are an important part of the future.

The 4,000 mile, coast-to-coast tour is taking twelve days, and includes more than 30 stops, finishing in Santa Monica on Saturday, August 23. Perhaps the most important of these stops is in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, the Senators and Congressmen who should see and be impressed with these vehicles that use no gasoline whatsoever -- those legislators won't be there. They are all on vacation with their families, or busy raising money for their re-election campaigns.

The hydrogen road rally is a partnership of the U.S. Departments of Energy and Transportation, the California Fuel Cell Partnership, the National Hydrogen Association and a group of seven automobile manufacturers and hydrogen fuel providers.

Vehicles included models running on hydrogen fuel cells only, hydrogen-electric hybrids, and BMW's liquid hydrogen and gas bi-fuel model, a combo of sedans and SUVs. The collection also includes a combo of gas-powered production models retro-fitted to hydrogen, and prototypes designed from the ground up to be non-gasoline powered. BTW -- the initials FCEV mean it's a fuel cell/ elecrtic. From these manufacturers --
  • BMW 7 Series Hydrogen
  • Mercedes-Benz F-Cell
  • Chevrolet Equinox
  • Honda FCX Clarity
  • Hyundai Tucson FCEV
  • Kia Sportage EX FCEV
  • Volkswagen Hy-Motion Tiguan FCEV
  • Nissan X-Trail FCV
BMW is the only manufacturer with a hydrogen-powered luxury sedan that is already in production and available to consumers. It's the spectacular 7 Series Hydrogen, which switches seamlessly between hydrogen power and regular gasoline at the flip of a switch. I test drove it recently, and it performs equally well either way. Some 100 of these vehicles are being tested in Europe and the US by regular consumers and what the marketing industry calls 'opinion leaders'.

Honda's FCX Clarity sedan also is being road-tested by a combination of ordinary consumers and opinion leaders including celebrity and environmentalist Jamie Lee Curtis.

Volkswagen is participating with its concept HyMotion Tiguan, and will be providing daily updates and photos from the historic trip on a dedicated VW Hydrogen Tour website. Take a look. You can be sure I will be checking in periodically.

Hydrogen is not the entire answer to reducing dependency on foreign oil, but it certainly is part of the answer, along with hybrids, plug-in hybrids and compressed natural gas, or CNG.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

International Driver's License Scams

It's great to rent a car overseas and drive yourself. Not so great if you are driving with an illegal international driving permit, called an IDP. So beware of buying a fraudulent license, especially over the internet.

There are only two organizations in the United States which can issue a proper, legal IDP to drivers holding a license issued by one of the 50 US states. One is the AAA, the other is the American Automobile Touring Alliance. That's it. Just those two. Anybody else offering to sell you an international driver permit is a scam and a fraud, and if you're stopped by a foreign police officer with one of these make-believe permits, you could spend the rest of your vacation in a foreign jail.

Authentic IDPs and Inter-American Driving Permits (IADPs) are official translations of a motorist’s driver’s license, for use when driving in another country. Anyone 18 years or older who presents a valid U.S. driver’s license can get one on at any of the more than 1,100 AAA offices around the country, or by mail following instructions on the AAA website.

An IDP costs just $15 from AAA, $20 from AATA. Anybody charging you more than that should throw up red flags -- it's a tip-off to a rip-off. Some of these scammers are charging hundreds of dollars. One website I checked promises your application will be processed within 12 hours. Terrific. If you go to an AAA office with the proper documents, your legal, $15 application will be issued on the spot, in under one hour.

Plus, you can be sure the AAA won't sell your driver's license information to other scammers who are in the business of identify theft, and cause you years of financial grief.

These on-line permit scams are nothing new. They're just easier now thanks to the internet. The US Federal Trade Commission has been warning us about these scams, and telling the fraudulent marketers their conduct won’t be tolerated.

Drive safe. Drive legal.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hybrid Cars at Beijing Olympics

We've been hearing a lot about the air pollution in Beijing -- bad enough that some Olympic athletes are worried it will affect their performances. So, it is great news that Olympic officials will drive green, hybrid cars during the two-week event.

If you think these hybrid vehicles are from China's next door neighbor, Japan -- the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid, or Nissan Altima Hybrid -- you would be wrong. The hybrid technology for these green cars is from Ricardo, an engineering company based in Detroit. The actual powertrain and other technology for these hybrids are being manufactured at Ricardo's factory in England.

The hybrid motors and drive trains are being installed in 50 A5 sedans made by China's own Chery Automotibile Company Ltd. They are being called "Olympics Green Messengers," and are some of China's very first hybrid vehicles. The hybrids will go into full production in China in the months following the Olympic games, all the hope is that the fuel-efficient, eco-friendly Chery A5 Hybrid will become widely and wildly popular in China, just as the Prius has become in the USA.

The first Chinese hybrids are linked to a 1.6 liter gasoline engine with a 5-speed manual transmission. The next model will be a more comprehensive mild hybrid, with a smaller gas engine matched with a larger 151-volt electric motor.

This is just one more example of how necessity is the mother of invention. Here's hoping Ricardo will help auto manufacturers in other countries to speed development of great hybrid drives. Let's consider some possibilities --

India's Tata. Korea's Hyundai. France's Peugeot and Citroen. Italy's Fiat. Spain's Seat. Czech Republic's Skoda.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Top Ten Green Cars of 2008

Who is the greenest of them all? Toyota Prius? Honda Civic Hybrid? Smart for Two? Those are the top three great green drives for 2008 according to Kelley Blue Book, also known as KBB.

The ratings are based on lots more than just fuel efficiency, though. Also comfort, and an important thing called performance, which includes how much oomph they have to keep up with traffic on a steep incline, or corner without feeling like you'll tilt over. And price -- the Honda Fit, pictured here, is just $15,000.

But there are lots more eco-friendly, fuel efficient cars in the great green drives garage. And while the list is dominated by hybrids, there's also a couple of small gas-powered cars, and even one diesel, the new super-clean Mercedes-Benz BLUETEC. Drum roll please --
  • Nissan Altima Hybrid - 34 mpg (35 city, 33 highway)

  • Mini Cooper - 32 mpg (28 city, 37 highway)

  • Ford Escape Hybrid - 32 mpg (34 city, 30 highway)

  • Honda Fit - 31 mpg (28 city, 34 highway)

  • Mercedes-Benz E320 BLUETEC - 26 mpg (23 city/32 hwy)

  • Toyota Highlander Hybrid - 26 mpg (27 city, 25 highway)

  • Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid - 21 mpg (21 city, 22 highway)

This list includes a little of everything when it comes to type -- sedans, SUVs and hatchbacks -- certainly something for everybody in this list of great green drives.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

What to Do After a Driving Accident

Of course, I hope you never have a driving accident. But if you do, the DocuDent kit is a great resource to have at the ready, in the glove compartment.

The moments after a road accident – whether or not it was your fault – are a stressful blur, and not the time to be searching frantically for a pen and paper to write down all those important accident details. Let alone to try to remember exactly what information you need to collect from the other guy for your insurance claim, for the police, or both.

DocuDent is a handy kit that contains everything you need, inside a zippered pouch about the size of your overnight toiletry kit. Think of it as an auto-accident kit.

Instead of toothpaste, this handy kit contains the following --

  • An accident report form that includes spaces for the names and addresses of passengers or witnesses,

  • A pen to write it all down with,

  • A whistle, just in case,

  • Band-Aids, just in case,

  • A disposable film camera with flash to take photos of the accident site, more dependable than a cell phone camera that has no flash,

  • A gadget the size of your MP3 player that is a combination measuring tape and flashlight.

DocuDent also includes a handy pocket guide that suggests what photographs to take, and what you should not say to the other guy.

If you have a loved one heading off to college this fall, this is a great gear idea for the glove compartment. Consider it a $20 insurance policy.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Drive Honda's New Fuel Cell FCX Clarity

A Los Angeles couple has become the first to lease a next-generation Honda hydrogen/fuel cell sedan, the FCX Clarity. It is Honda's answer to the Toyota Prius, not to mention that it may be the answer to the question all of us have had lately to alternative -- and green -- fuel-efficient great cars to drive as fuel prices have skyrocketed.

Honda is leasing 200 of these vehicles to customers around the country, although most of them will be in Southern California, plus so-called 'opinion leaders', such as celebrities who can generate headlines and U.S. Congressmen who can generate favorable legislation. It's the same marketing tactic BMW is using for its bi-fuel Series 7 Hydrogen sedan, which switches from gas to hydrogen at the flip of a switch.

I test drove an earlier version of a Honda fuel cell vehicle, a small SUV version. It handled exactly like its conventional gas-powered sibling, except for a thundering silence that takes about one nanosecond to get used to. I also test drove the BMW hydrogen vehicle, at the Los Angeles Auto Show, and was impressed at how its acceleration and handling were identical whether it was operating on gasoline mode or hydrogen mode. I have also tested the General Motors Chevrolet Equinox fuel cell prototype. Ditto. Great acceleration, great handling.

The Honda FCX Clarity is propelled by an electric motor that runs on electricity generated in the fuel cell. The only emission is water, and its fuel efficiency is three times that of a modern gasoline-powered automobile -- the equivalent of 74 mpg, and has a range of 280 miles before needing a hydrogen fill.

Hydrogen fuel-cell powered cars are not the answer. Neither are hybrids like the popular Prius, or plug-in electrics such as the GM Volt that's in the pipeline. But, most definitely, each and every type is a part of the answer.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How to Avoid Flood Damaged Cars

Every year, thousands of vehicles are ruined by water. An unknown number of cars were water damaged last month when the Mississippi River overflowed its banks, breaking through levees and leaving much of the Midwest under water. Many of those cars will be dried out, fixed up and resold to unsuspecting buyers. Hopefully, not to you.

An estimated 250,000 vehicles were damaged by Hurricane Katrina -- and about half of them wound up back on the market. So, it is likely many of the cars still drying out from June's river flooding also will be found soon as bargains on auctions and on-line. Ditto any vehicles that will be damaged by this year's hurricane season, just now beginning.

Don't get soaked by buying a soaked car. Simply, they are dangerous -- too dangerous to own and drive. Today's cars have more computer circuitry than the original NASA rockets, and dried out circuitry rarely works the way the engineers intended. Just ask anybody who has ever knocked over the morning coffee or evening martini onto a computer keyboard, or even a cellphone. Water and computers -- not a good combination.

Ditto, water can permanently damage airbag and anti-lock brake systems. Even after the water has dried, and the smell of rotting fish or rotting garbage has aired out of the upholstery and carpeting.

So how do you avoid buying a flood-damaged vehicle? Don't think that because you live in a 'dry' state that you are safe. The creeps and con artists who re-sell flood damaged cars move them to a different part of the country, even out of the country. Here's what to look for:
  • Check the trunk, glove compartment, the dashboard and below the seats for signs of water damage such as silt, mud or rust. Examine upholstery and carpeting closely; if it doesn't match the interior or fits loosely, it may have been replaced. Discolored, faded or stained materials could indicate water damage.
  • Turn the ignition key to make sure accessory and warning lights and gauges come on and work properly. Ditto airbag and ABS lights.
  • Test all the lights, both interior and exterior, plus windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner. And check them several times to make sure they work.
  • Flex some of the wires beneath the dashboard. Wet wires often become brittle upon drying and may crack.
  • Take a deep breath and smell for musty odors from mildew.
  • Go to a trusted mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection. Always get vehicles checked BEFORE handing over any money.

This may be the most important tip of all -- Ask to see a detailed vehicle history report. CARFAX Vehicle History Reports can reveal many hidden problems from a vehicle's past, including flood titles and will indicate if a vehicle has been titled/registered in at-risk areas during flood and hurricane seasons. If the seller does not offer a report, use the 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) available on the dashboard to check the car's history at

And remember, if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Volkswagen Announces New Factory in USA

Poor sales are driving General Motors to slow down production and park many of its employees on the unemployment line. GM has some great drives, including the award-winning Cadillac CTS and the icon Chevy Corvette, plus fuel efficient green drives such as the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid. But, apparently, that's not enough.

The bad news from GM is at the same time that Volkswagen sales are booming enough that the company announced this week it will spend $1 Billion to build its first U.S. production facility, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The new assembly line is part of VW's plan to triple sales in North America in the next ten years.

Prof. Martin Winterkorn, CEO of Volkswagen AG, said the company hopes to sell 800,000 Volkswagens in the U.S. by 2018. Many of those will be the iconic Beetle, and the Beetle convertible, pictured here. The new factory will be able to produce 150,000 vehicles a year, including a brand new midsize sedan designed specifically for the North American market. Production is scheduled to begin early in 2011.

The new assembly line will add 2,000 jobs to the Chattanooga area -- perhaps some of them will be workers who move to VW from General Motors. And, maybe some of those about-to-be unemployed GM workers will head for the assembly line Toyota just announced it is building in the US -- its third US factory. See my article about that just below this one.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Toyota Will Build Prius in USA

The most popular cars right now are great drives that are also the most fuel efficient, such as the top-rated Prius, which is so popular that Toyota cannot keep up with demand.

So the company will start building the Prius in the U.S. beginning in 2010, at a brand new factory now under construction in Blue Springs, Mississippi.

A Prius with a Southern accent! Fabulous.

Toyota, by the way, was the first foreign automaker to build a factory in the United States. That was more than 20 years ago. Now, the company has multiple factories and parts plants in the US and more in Canada. It's an investment worth more than $21 Billion, and employs more than 43,000 workers on the assembly line, as well as research and development, design, sales and financial services.

The Camry Hybrid already is built in the US, in Kentucky. Toyota also is switching its plant in Princeton, Indiana, from producing the full-size Tundra pick-up to produce the Highlander mid-size SUV instead. The Tudra will continue to be built at the Toyota factory in San Antonio. The engines for the Tundra and the super-size Sequoia SUV are made in Huntsville, Alabama, and although Toyota is stopping production on those large, gas guzzler models -- until sales pick up again -- the company says those workers will "continue to be provided work", whatever that means.

It's sad and ironic that as Detroit automakers GM, Ford and Chrysler scale back production of vehicles, more Toyota is increasing the number of its vehicles Made in America.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Top Tips to Save Gas

The relentless rise of gas prices has us all a bit crazy right now, especially at the start of the Fourth of July holiday weekend, when we would rather be taking a holiday from panic at the pump.

Here are some ways you can increase the fuel efficiency of Old Breakdown and squeeze more miles out of every high-priced gallon --

Check your tires -- Experts estimate that U.S. drivers waste nearly 3 Billion gallons of gas each year by driving on tires that are not inflated properly. If yours are under-inflated by 5-8 PSI, you are losing a couple of miles per gallon. Depending on how much you drive, that can add up to wasting enough gas this year to pay for a week's worth of groceries to feed your family. Always check your tires when they are cold, since driving even a short distance to the gas station can change the reading.

Slow down -- According to the Department of Energy, for every 5 mph over 55 mph you drive, is costing you 20 cents a gallon. Driving at 55 instead of 65 or 75 mph also reduces emissions. Not to mention reducing traffic deaths. At 55mph, a vehicle travels the length of a football field in just four seconds. It's less than 2 seconds at 75 mph. Wouldn't you rather have an extra couple of seconds to react to an emergency?

Step on the brake and gas gently -- Jack-rabbit starts and slam-dunk stops waste gas, so be more gentle with that gas pedal. div>

Lighten the load -- Get the junk out of the trunk. Every extra pound you carry around reduces how many miles you can squeeze out of that lemon you used to love.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Drive Safely this Fourth of July Holiday

The July Fourth holiday weekend is one of the most popular family getaways, a great time to drive to the beach, lake or a friend's backyard barbecue. It's also one of the most deadly times of the year on our roads.

An insurance industry analysis of data for the ten years from 1995-2005 shows that the day July 4th is actually the single most deadly day of the year, while July 2nd and 3rd are not far behind. Since the July 4, 2008 falls on a Friday, law enforcement officials are especially concerned that this year's Independence Day holiday could be a very deadly one.

To combat this, the Governors Highway Safety Association is funding extra enforcement efforts focusing on such safety issues as seat belt use, speeding, drunk driving, and an activity not enough drivers think is dangerous -- driving with one hand while holding a cellphone in the other. Talking while holding a cellphone is dangerous enough, but it is simply incoprehensible anybody is idiotic enough to take their eyes off the road long enough to either to dial or text message. But they do. And those people are beyond dumb. They are flat out dangerous.

Five states have laws prohibiting driving while talking on a handheld cellphone -- California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Washington, plus the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. The rules in California and Washington go into effect on July first, in time for the deadly driving days around the Fourth of July.

Four states ban text messaging while driving -- Alaska, Minnesota, New Jersey and Washington, and other states have introduced similar legislation.

Great drives are safe drives. This Fourth of July weekend, slow down -- you'll save gas and you'll drive more in control. Don't drink and drive. Don't text and drive. Don't dial and drive.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Drive Your Corvette to Work

Despite high gas prices, this is the day to drive your Corvette to work, if you own one. If not, just watch the parade of this iconic great drive.

Friday, June 28, 2008 is the annual "Drive Your Corvette to Work Day". It's a celebration sponsored by Mid America Motorworks, to say happy birthday to the vehicle known as "America's Sports Car".

The nationwide event is held on the Friday closest to June 30th, when the first Corvette rolled off the assembly line in Flint, Michigan. That was in 1953, which makes the Corvette the same age as the speed limit -- 55. This year -- 2008 -- also happens to be the 100th birthday of General Motors. To many car lovers, creation of the Corvette is GM's greatest contribution to the automotive world. Certainly more important than the Edsel or the Hummer H2.

The organizer of this annual event has a vested interest in keeping Corvettes rolling and purring and cornering and launching zero to sixty -- or 55 -- in a throaty blink. He is Mike Yager, founder Mid America Motorworks, the world’s leading supplier of Corvette parts and accessories.

These days, the Corvette is manufactured in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where the factory tour and Corvette Museum is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Bluegrass State.

The image, BTW, is the 2008 Corvette Indy 500 Pace Car. Now that's a great drive!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Saab 9-X Bio-Hybrid Concept Wins Another Award

The Saab 9-X BioHybrid has been voted “Specialty Concept Car of the Year” by a jury of 25 professional automotive journalists. The award ceremony took place at the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan.

It's the second award for this great future drive, a streamlined, environmentally-friendly design. The 9-X was named “Best Concept” by AutoWeek Magazine at its world debut at the Geneva Auto Show recently.

The annual Concept Car of the Year Awards recognize vehicles most likely to shape the future of the automobile industry. The Saab was voted the best of 40 concept cars and 12 production preview vehicles that debuted during the 2008 auto show season, which includes the Los Angeles Auto Show, the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and the New York Auto.

The 9-X BioHybrid is a vivid vision of what a future compact car from Saab could look like. It is designed to reflect the priorities of youthful customers who seek progressive looks, responsible performance and high-tech communications, all in a sporty, fun-to-drive package.

And it also has a pretty sensational power plant, too -- an ultra-efficient, 200 hp (147 kW), 1.4-liter BioPower turbo engine backed by GM’s next-generation hybrid system, with projected combined cycle CO2 emissions of just 105 g/km. That's low enough to qualify for one of the coveted SULEV ratings.

It's a sleek design, with ‘turbine’ wheels placed at all four corners. Minimal bodywork overhangs add to its sleek shape and reduce aerodynamic drag, too. The Saab designers know something about aero-dynamic. They design and build airplanes, too.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Five Tips to Keep You and Your Vehicle Safe in Mexico

Mexico is such an attractive place for a road trip that there are more than 80 million vehicle border crossings each year. That number could increase this year because a great drive south-of-the-border is an affordable travel alternative to Europe.

Here are five top tips to keep you and your car safe from GMAC Insurance --

1. Have the proper insurance. In most instances, your U.S. auto insurance policy will not be valid in an accident in Mexico, so you should buy Mexico auto insurance. Check with your insurance company to see if it offers a pre-approved policy for Mexico, or special add-ons to
cover you within a certain mileage from the border.

2. Know the law. In Mexico, a car accident is seen as a criminal offense, and until it is determined who is at fault and whether a penalty can be paid, you could be detained in jail. Check with your insurance company to make sure they will cover bail costs, so you stay in jail longer than absolutely necessary.

3. Stay With Your Car. Mexican law states that a car must be driven by the vehicle owner, or the owner must be in the vehicle. If the owner is not present, the car will be seized by customs and not returned under any circumstances. If your name is on the title, stay with the vehicle at all times.

4. Plan Ahead. Know how long you will be in the country in advance. Give yourself extra leeway in the event an accident occurs and an extended stay is unavoidable. In addition, register with the embassy, so they are aware of your presence and your whereabouts.

5. Study Up. Read your new auto insurance policy carefully, especially the part about your responsibilities in case of an accident or loss. Keep a copy of the policy in the vehicle at all times, and always carry your driver's license, as well - it's valid in Mexico.

These tips can help you avoid a mountain of headaches, from paperwork to jail time to enormous fines and other costs.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Drive Your Own Race Car on the Spanish Grand Prix Track

Now, how great is this drive -- get behind the wheel of a super-fast Porsche and do five laps on a world-class racetrack in Spain. Just sign up for the F1 Racing Package from Cassanova Hotel in Barcelona.

The program starts with a classroom session on driving and safety, incuding how to find the line around a tight curve without losing speed or control. Then, you strap yourself into a Porsche Cayman and see if you can throttle up to its 295 hp max. You get five tries around the Montmelo Formula 1 race track, home to the Spanish Grand Prix.

The program includes two nights at the elegant and luxurious Casanova Hotel, daily breakfast, transportation between the airport and hotel, and between hotel and racetrack. The F1 Racing package starts at 1185 Euros, which is approximately $1860 USD. /div>

Or, spend a bit more and vroom around the track in a Ferrari, Lamborghini or even a Formula 1. Just don't reserve the red one -- that's mine.

After your racetrack experience, you can slow down at the Casanova's Stone Spa, or its rooftop pool.

Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Formula 1. Great drives all of them.