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Things to Know Before Using a Tax Refund to Buy a Car

February 11th, 2016

Used carsIt’s that time of year many people look forward to: tax refund season. It’s also the time of year used-car dealers look forward to, because people use those refunds to buy new-to-them cars.

Now, you might see articles claiming that tax refund car purchases peak around April 15. That’s not true. The only people filing tax returns then are those who owe taxes – not those expecting refunds.

What’s the first thing you want to know about buying a used car with your tax refund? Now is the worst time to buy a used car with a tax refund. How come? It’s simple. Between now and the end of March, it is a seller’s market when it comes to used cars.

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NHTSA Administrator Talks Autonomous Driving

February 10th, 2016

MIT Transportation Event

Remember all the recall-related headlines of the past two years? Those manufacturer errors account for only about 2% of deaths on the road. Conversely, 94% of lives lost in motor-vehicle accidents are due to human error. These are startling numbers, which lead to sobering realizations. Back in 1970, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was formed to study our highways and roads in an effort to minimize the risks associated with driving. As technology has advanced, this administration’s scope and responsibilities have advanced as well. Dr. Mark Rosekind, the current NHTSA Administrator, spoke with Bryan Reimer, of the New England University Transportation Center and MIT’s AgeLab, regarding the NHTSA’s role in the current and future state of autonomous driving technology.

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Should We Tax Gas While It’s Cheap?

February 10th, 2016

low_gas_prices

Who doesn’t love low gas prices?

There’s a certain glee that one gets while driving through a city or down a highway and seeing those glowing gas station signs displaying prices that start with a one.

As of this writing, the national average price of regular unleaded is $1.77. You can fill up a thirsty Tahoe for around $45, which is a huge relief when compared with the $100 fill-ups that were common just a few short years ago.

When gas prices are this low, sales of SUVs and pickups go through the roof, while electric vehicles tend to languish on dealer lots for much longer.

The president has a plan that he hopes could spark some EV sales and help reduce consumption of cheap, easily available gasoline. The odds of his plan being implemented, though, aren’t good.

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FCA Killing Off Dodge Dart, Chrysler 200 in Favor of Trucks and SUVs

February 5th, 2016

2016_chrysler_200

Could you imagine Ford discontinuing the Fusion? Or Mazda doing away with the Mazda3?

Of course not. Those are core models for the brands and it would be complete insanity to cancel them without an improved replacement ready to go.

Chrysler, now FCA, spent years fine-tuning its core sedans. The Chrysler 200 began life as the Sebring and has since become a respectable entry in the compact sedan market. The Dodge Dart resurrected a cherished name from the past and is the FIAT-based sedan that Americans hoped would arrive when the Italians bought out Chrysler.

The cars aren’t record-setting sales superstars, but they do fill an important hole in the company’s lineup. Not having an entry in the compact sedan segment is akin to suicide in the mainstream auto industry.

Yet FCA is doing the unthinkable: Canceling the 200 and the Dart, without any concrete plans to replace them.

Why is this happening?

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Best and Worst Super Bowl Car Ads

February 4th, 2016

Christopher Walken for Kia

Some assignments are just too good to pass up. Somebody needed to watch the current crop of automotive commercials for Super Bowl 50, and who better than me? I love cars. I love commercials. And I love sharing my opinion.

This isn’t an in-depth look at every single commercial. Rather it’s a quick critique of some of the best and some of the worst. In no particular order, except for the one I saved for the end, here are the best and worst automotive commercials for Super Bowl 50.

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Toyota Killing the Scion Brand, Keeping Some Cars

February 4th, 2016

Scion-C-HR-Concept

Perhaps you’ve heard by now that Scion will soon be a thing of the past.

The brand that Toyota created 13 years ago to win younger buyers and act as a platform for new ideas will dissolve. Most of the brand’s current lineup, however, will remain available under the Toyota umbrella.

Usually when an automaker decides to end a brand, it discontinues both the brand and all associated models. Think Pontiac, Hummer, Saturn…the list goes on. This isn’t a traditional discontinuation, though. It’s more like a rollover.

And that’s actually really good news.

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Have Electric Cars Already Beat Fuel Cell Vehicles?

January 29th, 2016

2017-Honda-Clarity-Fuel-Cell

The price of electric cars is quickly falling into the $30,000 range. The Nissan Leaf, the upcoming Chevy Bolt, and, presumably, next year’s Tesla Model 3, will all be available for about the price of the average new car.

Infrastructure for charging electric vehicles is becoming more common and people are getting used to their limited range. Part of the reason for less range-anxiety is because cars are going farther on a single charge and taking less time to recharge.

Amidst the looming mass-adaption of EVs by consumers around the country, another type of alternative-fuel vehicle is starting to hit the market.

But is it too late for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles?

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The Early Death of the 3-Wheeled Car?

January 26th, 2016

Elio_Motors

Starting a car company is probably one of the most difficult of all business ventures. Even the best ideas can fail due to a lack of funds or stifling government regulatory requirements.

And yet, people still try.

The people who start car companies do so because they believe they can change, or improve upon, the current state of automobile design, functionality, and performance. Starting a car company can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, though, and most who try eventually fall short of their goals because they simply run out of money.

One company, Elio Motors, wants to introduce an 84-mpg 2-seater that costs just $6,800 and is powered by a 3-cylinder gas engine. Sounds great, right?

Consider this: The Elio has only three wheels, meaning the company is trying to classify the car as a motorcycle to avoid the stricter safety and efficiency regulations that govern cars.

The government, though, has other plans, which could send Elio into the history books.

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Tesla Model 3 or Chevy Bolt? No Contest!

January 25th, 2016

Tesla Model 3

Soon a $37,000, 200-mile electric vehicle will arrive on the market. The car could be the one that finally ushers in the era of the affordable, high-range, mass-produced electric car.

This car is well along in its development and will be available to purchase in the coming year.

The car’s designers made aerodynamics a top priority, so it slips effortlessly through the air. When in motion, wind flows around the vehicle from the headlamps to the rear wheels. The aluminum body and smooth proportions cut down on weight and drag to increase both range and acceleration. Plus, the bottom of the car is completely flat, since there aren’t any exhaust bits that need to be kept cool.

Yes, this car could be a game changer.

Oh, and Tesla is building one, too.

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Local Motors Could 3D-Print Itself Into the Future

January 21st, 2016

local-motors-lm3d_swim

A few weeks ago I made a statement on these pages that said something to the effect of how vehicle production hasn’t changed much over the last century or so.

Cars are still built on assembly lines using metal parts, a process that isn’t likely to change on a mass scale anytime soon.

There are companies, however, that are looking toward the future and coming up with innovative ways to build, and recycle, cars in the decades ahead.

Local Motors wants to be the one that disrupts the auto industry, and it wants to do so with 3D-printed cars.

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