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Archive for the ‘General Chat’ Category

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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Fiat 124 Spider: Better Than a Miata?

June 13th, 2016

2017-Fiat-124-Spider

The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is finally getting its First Drive reviews, and the results are consistent: the much-anticipated new roadster from Fiat is as mediocre as you might expect.

Well, maybe that’s not fair. The 124 Spider is getting some good reviews, but there’s nothing out there saying this is the car that’ll turn Fiat into a best-selling automaker. So far, most agree that the new Fiat roadster is a good car, if not a great one.

The base model could be an exception. Skipping the fancy luxury and performance trims could give owners one of the most respected driver’s cars on the road today. That’s assuming, of course, they are among the few people looking for what the 124 Spider has to offer.

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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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America’s Newest Supercar: The VLF Destino

June 8th, 2016

vlf_destino

We don’t hear the name Bob Lutz much anymore these days.

Back in the late 2000s Lutz’s name was slathered across car blogs and news sites as General Motors navigated toward, and then through, bankruptcy. Lutz, who served various executive roles at GM between 2001 and 2010, is known as a hardcore gearhead and is a huge supporter of muscle cars and big engines.

After retiring from GM, Lutz surprised no one by starting another company, VLF Automotive, that he announced would build a supercar from the ashes of the Fisker Karma.

This week, he delivered on that promise.

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What’s Past Is Prologue: Looking Back on the Origins of Today’s Tech

June 7th, 2016

1962 Oldsmobile Cutlass Jetfire Advertisement

In The Tempest, William Shakespeare once wrote, “what’s past is prologue.” The quotation implies that one’s history can dictate his or her future actions. It’s written outside the United States National Archives Building, and I had a particularly intelligent and entertaining professor who reflected on it often. Looking at the auto industry, it’s clear that the sentiment extends beyond Shakespeare’s verse.

New automotive technologies emerge every year. We covered some of them last week. Some, like the airbag or the seat belt, have ushered in a new era of motoring, changing the landscape forever. Others fall flat—despite Saab’s creative thinking with the 9000 Prometheus, steering via joystick never really got off the ground (the Prometheus didn’t even make it to production). What I find most interesting is looking back on these advancements and seeing how they’ve impacted cars today, despite their often lackluster starts.

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The Carroll Shelby Cars You Forgot Exist

June 6th, 2016

1999_Shelby_Series_1

Carroll Shelby died just over four years ago, but he left a legacy that continues to this day.

Best known for his work on the Shelby Cobra and an association with Ford that resulted in high-performance Shelby Mustangs in the late 1960s and 2000s, Shelby forged a path for himself that also included some lesser known automobiles.

Some of the other projects that bore his name happened in the 1980s and were questionable at best.

We can’t deny, however, that Carroll Shelby changed the face of the automotive landscape and set the bar for high-powered muscle cars to this day.

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Digging Into Self-Driving Cars

June 3rd, 2016
NEMPA MIT panelists John Leonard, Gil Pratt, Timothy Anness, Mary Gustanski, and Michelle Finamore.

Panelists John Leonard, Gil Pratt, Timothy Anness, Mary Gustanski, and Michelle Finamore.

People are funny. We’ve complained about having to waste time sitting uncomfortably in traffic for decades now. But when the phrase “self-driving car” and the idea of traveling in a car without having to dedicate full attention to it started becoming unavoidable in auto news, drivers of all sorts cried foul, calling the idea bad for reasons ranging from practical and real to theoretical and imagined.

Too far along to abandon the self-driving idea, automakers experimented with new language; disruptor Elon Musk demonstrated his wisdom with words by naming Tesla’s system Autopilot, after an established technology that’s already trusted and relatively understood, at least conceptually. Another important differentiator for Tesla is the fact that Autopilot promises partial rather than full autonomy, a critical difference that came up repeatedly at the recent New England Motor Press Association (NEMPA) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) conference on The Intersection of Technology and Design.

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Jeep: America’s New Favorite Brand?

June 3rd, 2016

2016-jeep-renegade

Sales of new vehicles, from nearly all brands, fell a combined 6 percent last month, but one brand defied the trend and set a new sales record.

Jeep managed to move more than 90,000 vehicles in May, a new record and an increase of nearly 14 percent over the same month last year. Even more remarkable is that May 2016 was two days shorter than May 2015.

Ford sales were down 6.6 percent, GMC went down 14.3 percent, and Chevrolet fell 18.6 percent. FCA’s other brands didn’t fare as well as Jeep, with Chrysler falling 18.5 percent and Fiat down 18.9 percent. Ram sales were flat.

All these percentages can be translated into one very interesting fact: Americans have fallen in love with Jeep.

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