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Are There Any Bad Cars Left? Kia tops J.D. Power Initial Quality Study

June 28th, 2016

2017 Kia Sportage EX EX

If there’s one piece of advice I find myself sanctimoniously preaching to prospective car shoppers, it’s this: There’s no such thing as a bad car anymore.

Long, long ago, in the early 1990s, Kia Motors expanded to the United States, bringing with it little economical runabouts like the Sephia sedan and the Sportage crossover. There was just one problem: These cars weren’t exactly what we’d describe as “good.” Sub-100-hp engines, crude transmissions, and interiors featuring more plastics than Mean Girls. The little Sephia couldn’t even deliver great fuel economy, barely eking out 27 mpg highway with its automatic transmission. A ‘94 Ford Escort could manage 5 mpg better with nearly identical power specs.

But oh, how times have changed. Despite a poor first impression, Kia has emerged as a shining example of the fact that there really are no more “bad” cars. Every year, J.D. Power conducts its Initial Quality Study, wherein car owners are surveyed to determine which vehicles deliver the best experience within the first 90 days. By placing first on J.D. Power’s 2016 U.S. Initial Quality Study, Kia earned the honor of being the first non-premium brand in 27 years to take home Gold.

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Credit Score Only Fair? A 7-Year Loan Could Work for You

June 22nd, 2016

The new Volvo XC90

An interesting trend in automotive financing could affect your ability to buy a new car. To take advantage, you’re going to need fair (but not good) credit and be willing to stretch the duration of your loan up to 7 years.

As outlined in a recent Automotive News article, auto loans lasting 84 months or more are currently finding both advocates and opponents in the automotive-financing world. Lenders opposed to the longer loans feel consumers with fair credit are buying too much car and are therefore more likely to eventually default.

Turns out, according to Equifax data quoted in the article, these 7-year loans are the least likely to end in default among consumers in the 630-to-680 credit range, which is considered “fair” credit.

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A New Pacifica and the Future of Chrysler

June 21st, 2016

2017 Chrysler Pacifica

Once a mainstay on American highways, Chrysler is now driving toward an uncertain future. Its partnership with Daimler-Benz has been replaced by one with Fiat, and while Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has kept its head above water (thanks to America’s obsession with pickup trucks and the unyielding power of Jeep brand loyalty), the rest of the business raises more than a few questions. What is Fiat’s true future in the U.S. market? Will Alfa Romeo and its Giulia succeed today after a reputation for unreliability sunk them in 1995? And with only a midsize sedan with a questionable future, a full-size stalwart in a shrinking segment, and the 2017 Pacifica in a crossover-crazy era, can Chrysler stay afloat?

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Volkswagen Looks Toward an Electric Future

June 20th, 2016

VW-Electric-Bus

Volkswagen’s emissions scandal may have killed diesel-fueled cars in the U.S. forever.

Prior to September of 2015, cars with diesel engines were on the rise in the United States. Long popular in Europe, the fuel was on the verge of overcoming the stigma of its dirty past and even rivaled hybrid technology as a clean, efficient alternative to gasoline.

Volkswagen led that charge with its Clean Diesel marketing campaign and its promise of efficient, environmentally friendly sedans and SUVs.

Then it all came crashing down when the story broke that VW had cheated on emissions tests and the engines were, in fact, heavy polluters.

The fallout of the scandal is still ongoing and VW hasn’t sold a new diesel automobile in the States in over nine months. The company may not sell one here ever again.

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Forget Kit Cars, Here Come the Repli-Mods

June 17th, 2016

limited-edition-50th-anniversary-shelby-427-cobra-14

If you could flip through the annals of automotive history and bring back a modern version of any car within their pages, which car would you choose?

That’s a question that may receive an answer in the coming years as a new kit-car law could spawn an entire automotive sub-industry.

The Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act of 2015 allows manufacturers to apply for an exemption from NHTSA safety and crash-test standards for up to 325 “replica motor vehicles” each year. These modified replicas, or repli-mods, would still have to meet current-year emissions standards, which will require modern EPA-certified production engines and emissions controls.

The reality of buying a modernized classic could be just around the corner. Here are some we’d love to see.

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Looking for Deals on Used Cars Coming Off Lease

June 15th, 2016

2013 Honda Pilot off lease

A burgeoning number of leasers will return their cars over the next six months, and their number is bound to grow even further as leasing continues to be a popular alternative to buying a new car.

Experian Automotive, citing AutoRemarketing.com, says 1.8 million cars will be coming off lease between the end of April and December.

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Taking a Look at the Most and Least Expensive Cars to Own

June 14th, 2016

2016 BMW 340i

There are some things we replace, and other things we repair. I have no qualms replacing a toothbrush every couple months, or buying a new pair of running shoes after a few hundred miles. When it comes to more expensive items, however, my point of view shifts dramatically. Companies like Patagonia have made a strong push against disposable merchandise, offering repair services for their products and encouraging shoppers to fix their gear rather than just throwing it away and buying replacements. It’s a commendable, environmentally friendly decision—and considering the price tags on Patagonia products, one that’s appreciated by shoppers, too.

Of course, when it comes to repairing vs. replacing, nothing trumps the auto industry. Drivers spend hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars per year keeping their cars on the road and, try as a I might, I just can’t visualize disposable cars showing up anytime soon. YourMechanic.com connects car owners with mechanics and in doing so has amassed an impressive data set breaking down the average cost of ownership by brand and specific model, including the maladies that most commonly afflict each brand.

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Car Safety 2016: Warnings, Assists, and Autopilot, Oh My!

June 10th, 2016

Car scanning road ahead

We love cars, but find the fact that it took almost 1.6 million U.S. motor-vehicle fatalities to make wearing a seat belt mandatory in America troubling. Happily, annual fatalities have declined fairly steadily since their early-‘70s peak, despite the fact that Americans now drive well over one and a half times the number of miles they did then, often while using a smartphone. And with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) testing and rating vehicles for safety and crashworthiness, we have to admit it’s getting better.

Smartphones can, of course, pose huge risks to drivers, so much so that NHTSA partnered with the U.S. Department of Transportation to create the distraction.gov website, and “distracted driving” now has its own Wikipedia entry. But the connectivity and processing power of smartphones can also be used to help drivers avoid accidents and to make sure authorities get alerted quickly and with all the information they’ll need to respond to an accident. And those capabilities will definitely be required for any future “self-driving,” “autonomous,” or Autopilot-equipped cars. As we learned at NEMPA/MIT’s recent panel on the intersection of technology and design, a whole new world of car safety and driver-assistance technologies is available–and evolving–so we’re going to take a look at some of the more important and effective new tech.

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Volkswagen Off Your List? Think Skoda!

June 10th, 2016
The Skoda Vision S concept: Perfect for North America?

The Skoda Vision S concept: Perfect for North America?

Volkswagen has taken a serious hit in the United States after its diesel scandal.

Sales dropped by 17.2 percent in May and the German automaker holds less than two percent market share here.

To say that Volkswagen is struggling in the U.S. market is a huge understatement, but the company still has hopes of recovering and expanding here. Part of that recovery and expansion could mean the introduction of a brand that Americans don’t associate with scandal and lies. In fact, it’s a brand that’s mostly unknown to American car buyers.

Could Czech automaker Skoda be the answer to Volkswagen’s problems?

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Uber Worth More than GM, Will it Change the Auto Industry?

June 9th, 2016

uber

Following the stock prices and industry valuations in the auto business can be an exercise in futility, not to mention an exceptionally dull experience without much reward.

The numbers, though, can provide an interesting glimpse into the trends, and the possible future, of the automotive industry.

An article at CNN Money dives into the dismal May sales numbers automakers have reported and their effect on stock prices. Other factors, including increasing fuel prices and automotive scandals, are contributing to slower sales.

All of this to say that, in addition to individual auto sales, automakers need large companies to purchase fleets of vehicles to help boost their numbers. One of the largest, and potentially one of the last, companies likely to purchase large numbers of cars is ridesharing startup Uber.

The irony here goes beyond measure.

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