Do you know what your car’s ‘face’ says about you?

An Austrian anthropologist recently released a study on what features we find most appealing on our cars’ faces.

As you might assume, the study is intended to give auto designers a peek into the heads of Mr. and Mrs. Consumer. While a study can tell us what kind of face we prefer on our cars, it can’t tell us what a car’s face says about the driver.

That’s why I’m here. Behold:

1. The Angry Face.

The above-mentioned survey concluded that ‘angry’ faces, like on a BMW, topped the list of attractive traits. The further the stock market slides, the angrier these owners are.

2. The Startled Face.

The Mini Cooper always looks surprised to be where it is. Especially when it ends up at Costco and the driver needs to load in a weeks’ worth of groceries.

3. The Sad Face.

Some cars try to look luxurious, but end up looking like the sad kitten from Shrek. Owners of this droopy-lidded Jag are sad they didn’t wait for the newly introduced XF.

4. The Aggressive Face.

Designers were going for a look that demands authority of the road. What they got were owners who demand authority of themselves, and need a car to suit the image.

5. The Happy Face.

When a car smiles at you, you just have to smile back. Even when the driver is applying lipstick, talking on her cell phone and sipping a non-fat caramel macchiato.

6. The Confused Face.

“Are we designing a tug boat or a car? Oh an SUV? OK, well this should still work.” Luckily the owners get to sit behind this car’s face, and drive in a state of blissful unawareness as the rest of us just shake our heads.

What does your car’s face say about you?


What does Toyota’s 0% offer really mean?

Trouble for Toyota?

Trouble for Toyota?

I’m confused. I thought the economic downturn meant the end of easy credit and low financing as a sales incentive.

Yet here’s Toyota doing the unprecedented: a nationwide offer of 0% financing. We’re not talking just on V8 trucks and SUVs either, but on 11 of Toyota’s best selling, fuel efficient models including Camry, Corolla and Matrix.

Toyota is hoping to the high heavens that this action causes you to forget about the economy and gets you excited about a new Toyota. After all, excitement can cause your emotions to take over and before you know it, you’ve got new car smell seeping into your garage.

To me though, the fact that Toyota is even making this offer is a major red flag. Granted, it’s a show of strength in Toyota’s traditionally conservative financing arm, but they wouldn’t be making this offer unless they were hurting, and big time. A check of their September 2008 sales confirms it: a decrease of 32% from a year ago. Yup, that’s reason to panic!

Interest-free financing sounds great in TV ads and is an effective buying tool for some people. Seriously though, if you can’t afford a car at 6% interest, you can’t afford one at 0%; especially when the offer’s terms only stretch 36 months.

That’s when you get home and wonder if that wonderful scent of a new Corolla is worth $600 per month.

Toyota wants you to believe that everything’s fine, but the business of selling cars is changing and this latest incentive is only another piece of evidence to support that claim.

I want your opinion about this: will you consider taking Toyota up on their offer?


Watch out Japan, the Germans are coming

Can this combo be number one?

Can this combo be number one?

The Germans want to rule the world.

Well, at least the automotive world.

Volkswagen has said they want to overtake Toyota as the world’s number one mass market manufacturer of automobiles.

A lofty goal for sure. But if you find yourself laughing in the face of this semi-obscure German car company, perhaps a swift slap across your face from Porsche will snap you out of it.

Porsche already owns about 30 percent of V-dub. If the luxury car company has their way, they’ll soon own over 50 percent of the people’s car company.

The implications are huge.

VW and Porsche are at opposite ends of the car spectrum, though recent years have brought us Volkswagens that can cost $60K and Porsches that can cost $50K.

Don’t expect more of this in the future though. I’d guarantee that with Porsche in control, they’ll make sure the proper distance is kept between the cars for everyone and the cars for the elite.

It sure seems like the pieces are falling into place for VW to achieve their goal of world domination:

Gas prices: They have been coming down since summer, but are still high. Diesel fuel is a popular alternative not because it costs less but because it provides much higher miles per gallon. Volkswagen has already established itself in America as a leader in diesel automobiles, so it could easily introduce more.

Name recognition: Volkswagen already has brand awareness across the globe, especially in America.

Mystique of Porsche: Porsches are the cars many Americans aspire to. They are the symbol of pure performance and often define success. With the Porsche name firmly planted behind Volkswagen, the perception of VW will increase greatly.

Granted, Volkswagen will need to work out the bugs of questionable reliability and their notoriously high cost of repairs. But with the Porsche name behind them, you won’t see me betting against their odds of becoming number one.

Do you think Volkswagen can overtake Toyota?


Is Ford alienating youth with newest feature?

How will teens respond to Ford's MyKey?

How will teens respond to Ford's MyKey?

Starting next model year, Ford will begin offering a new feature designed to limit the freedoms teens have while driving mom and dad’s car.

MyKey, as Ford is calling it, will allow parents to limit the top speed of the car, sound a continuous alarm if the seat belt is not buckled and even limit the volume of the stereo system.

The feature will be standard on some 2010 Ford models, beginning with the Focus.

I can see Ford’s strategy here of giving concerned parents a way to control the driving habits of their teens. And I agree with the fact that teens are notoriously bad drivers and probably shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel until they are 17 or 18.

Considering all that, you might think that I’d sing the praises for MyKey, but in fact I despise the idea for one simple reason: trust.

The fact is, America’s legal driving age is 16. Whether I like that or not it’s the law. As legal drivers, we need to trust teens to make the right choices behind the wheel just as much as we trust every other legal driver.

I wonder if Ford has considered this little fact: teens are fickle.

Especially the group of teens known as Generation Y. If these teens feel a lack of trust from a corporation now, they’re less likely to give that corporation their business a couple years down the road.

When it’s time for the teens of today to make their first vehicle purchase, do you think there’s any chance that they’ll buy a Ford? The same company that didn’t even trust them with the radio controls?

This is potentially a huge alienation of the next group of auto buyers, and a real opportunity for brands like Scion to step up and embrace teens with a very simple message: We trust you.

What do you think of MyKey?


Auto leasing: soon a thing of the past?

what will happen to them all?

Lease returns: what will happen to them all?

Auto leases could become much more of a burden; for everyone.

By the looks of it, there could be a perfect storm brewing in the next year for consumers, banks, leasing companies and dealerships as the economy sinks, leases end and the vehicles are returned.

Already, according to a recent NY Post article, there’s a surge in people trying to get out of leases because they can’t afford the payments anymore. Companies like have seen thousands more transactions this year than normal.

And that’s not even where the real problem begins. As leased vehicles are returned, very few people are going to buy them.

Consumers who are interested in buying a lease return will have a heck of a time getting approved for a loan, which could mean banks and leasing companies getting stuck. Big time.

Normally when a leased car is returned, the consumer can buy the car, lease another or walk away. For many, buying the car will be out of the question. Few will want the commitment of another 3-year lease payment. Most will simply walk away, leaving thousands of unwanted vehicles in the ownership of the leasing companies.

There a few possible outcomes of such a scenario:

1. Leases will become just as difficult to obtain as loans, as leasing companies tighten their requirements to minimize risk. Lease payments could become equal to loan payments, which would further deplete the leasing business.

2. The cars that have been returned will be sold well under market value, as a way for leasing companies to clear their massive inventory and minimize their losses.

For those who are in the market for a lease-returned car, those potential bargains might be worth keeping an eye on.

Regarding the state of leasing in the future: What do you think will happen? Are the days of leasing vehicles numbered?

If you are currently leasing, what do you plan to do when the lease is up?


INVASION! Of the hatchback

Coming to America

The Volvo C30: Coming to America

There are two kinds of cars America has loved in the last two decades: SUVs and cars with trunks.

Hatchbacks were just funky little novelties that Europeans loved.

Man, things can change quickly!

Look at all the hatchbacks popping up in America over the last couple model years: Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Suzuki SX4, MINI Cooper, Audi A3, VW GTI, Scion xD.

And check this out: According to a study by CNW Marketing Research, just over 20 percent of near-luxury buyers said they preferred a hatchback to a sedan or wagon. Yes, “near-luxury” and hatchback were used in the same sentence!

As the market share of compact cars increases, the popularity of hatchbacks will also increase.

It’s been since the oil crisis of the ’70s that hatchbacks have enjoyed this kind of popularity. Now that we’re in another oil crisis, the benefits of the versatile hatch are again being recognized. Only this time they are more luxurious, safer, and much better built.

Europe on the other hand never escaped a gas crisis. When we were enjoying $1.30 gas, Europe was choking it down at $5 or more. It makes sense that the popularity of the hatch never waned on that side of the Atlantic.

The hatchback in America has been nothing more than a symbol of frugality in a time when we’ve been all about extravagance. Simply put.

Now reality is catching up to us, and it’s coming in the form of the hatchback.

Watch your dealerships, friends, because new hatches are arriving from Europe in the form of the Ford Feista, Volvo C30, and more. Hopefully we’ll even get our chances at the Mercedes A Class and Honda Civic Type R.

There are even some exciting hatchbacks making their debut at the Paris Auto Show this week in the form of the Toyota Urban Cruiser, BMW X1 and MINI Crossover concept.

Americans: Are you on board with the coming invasion of the European hatchback?

Europeans: Do you love hatchbacks as much as Americans think you do?


Is diesel really worth it?

2009 VW Jetta TDI

2009 VW Jetta TDI

Diesel fuel has been getting a lot of attention lately.

Bloggers all over the ‘net are claiming it’s the answer to slowing our oil consumption and raving about the high mileage diesel cars get. After all, Europe has been driving diesel cars for years yet American has been slow to get on the band wagon. even did a recent poll on this topic, with a majority of people who plan on buying an alternative fuel car saying they’ll buy diesel over hybrid.

While it’s true that diesels get 20 to 30 percent better fuel economy, diesel fuel is about 50 cents per gallon more than gas. On top of the higher fuel costs, diesel autos cost more upfront to buy.

I’m going to do the math right here and now, to see if going diesel on your next new auto purchase is financially worth it over a traditional gas-powered car.

The survey cited the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI (diesel) as it’s example, so I’ll compare it to a similarly equipped 2009 Jetta SE (gas).

The SE costs $19,920. The TDI is $21,990 for a difference of $2,070.

Currently, gas costs an average of $3.48 per gallon. Diesel currently averages $4.00 per gallon.

The SE gets an estimated 20 MPG in the city. The TDI gets 29 MPG.

Assuming you drive an average of 15,000 miles per year in the city, you’ll use 750 gallons of gas in the SE for a total of $2,610 in fuel costs.

In the TDI, you’ll use 517 gallons of diesel, for a total of $2,068 in annual fuel costs.

With the TDI, you’re saving $542 per year in fuel costs. At current prices, it will take driving your TDI for almost 4 years to break even.

So the bottom line is simple: If you’re buying a diesel over a gas-powered car to keep for the long run, diesel is a good option.

I’m interested in what you think: Is diesel worth the higher MPG? I only looked at the financials; what are some other reasons to go diesel?


The world’s biggest Chevy dealer has closed… and keep your eyes open for more

You won't be seeing signs like this anymore!

You won't be seeing signs like this anymore!

The news that Bill Heard Enterprises has closed shop is more surprising than it should be.

It’s no secret that dealer consolidation has been a much needed action, and that fuel prices have left a major dent in the sales of high-profit trucks and SUVs.

But the fact that the world’s largest seller of Chevrolet couldn’t even keep ONE of it’s 13 stores open is surreal. Something more must be going on.

That ‘something more’ is a massive lawsuit against Bill Heard Enterprises, accusing the dealer of signature forgery and deceptive marketing; charges that could bring up to $50 million in fines.

So the credit crunch is likely a cause of failure, not THE cause of failure.

The credit crunch and gas prices are the reasons Bill Heard Enterprises is citing though, and that’s enough for me to sound the alarm for massive changes ahead in the auto dealer industry.

What kind of changes could we see as dealers begin to jump ship?

Consolidation for one. Perhaps even to the extreme: Imagine shopping for Ford, Chevy, Chrysler, Nissan and Toyota under one roof.

Imagine the current rows and rows of auto dealers lined up on main drags across America, relegated to just one or two city blocks.

Of course consolidation would not bode well for the automakers, who count on exclusivity and high volume sales from their dealers. They’d have to cut production dramatically and quickly adapt to a much leaner way of building and distributing their vehicles.

For you and me though, it means more power in how we buy our cars and eventually could lead to a shift away from the current high-pressure model of car sales.

I’d love to see going to the car dealer akin to going to grocery store… just pick out what I want, pay and leave.

I ask you: is that day coming? Would you want it to?


The 10 Ugliest Cars in Modern America

2001 Pontiac Aztec

Look at any other list of ugly cars and you’ll see a host of the usual Gremlins, Pintos, Pacers and Corvairs. Not here! Oh no friends, those cars could even be classified by today’s standards as trendy and retro-cool.

So what are the 10 absolute ugliest cars America has seen since the days of the Gremlin?

Feast on these horrors of auto design:

2001 Pontiac Aztec:

Before this list is over, Pontiac will own 30% of the mentions. Don’t you love U.S. auto design? Go team! The homegrown Aztec looks like a lunar lander. And a poorly designed one at that.

1999-2001 Isuzu VehiCross:

I’m pretty sure something went wrong at the assembly plant, because it looks like this car missed a few steps and shipped out before it was finished.

2003-2006 Subaru Baja:

What happened? The team at Subaru must’ve taken a company retreat into the ’70s and emerged thinking a cross between a car and a pickup would be a good idea. It never was. It never will be.

2007-2008 Jeep Compass:

It looks like Benjamin Franklin: a round spectacled face and odd proportions all around.

1985-1994 Chevy Astro:

Unless you think driving a tool box is cool. Then the Astro belongs on the 10 coolest cars of all time list.

2005-2007 Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible:

I’m reminded of an amusement park ride where you sit in the log and go over a waterfall. The PT Cruiser convertible is the log.

2005-2007 Buick Terraza / Chevy Uplander / Pontiac Montana:

The snout! Look at the snout! GM didn’t just treat us to one of these piggy little things, they brought the design across 3 brands! I don’t wonder why GM is losing money. Weird.

1990-1996 Pontiac Trans Sport:

Not only does the absurdly long nose make it look like a door stop, I’ve personally known two of these vans that have spontaneously combusted. And looked BETTER after the flames were extinguished.

2006-2009 Mercedes R-Class:

What is it? A minivan? An SUV? Oh wait, I know: It’s for old folks who want Mercedes’ version of a Transport but with less chance of fire.

2002-2007 Bentley Arnage:

Yeah, I’m saying it. This Bentley is proof that even a $350,000 car can’t outrun the ugly stick.

Think I missed something? Think there’s a car on this list that shouldn’t be? Let me hear it!


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Are Brad Pitt and George Clooney saving the world?

George Clooney and his Tango

George Clooney and his Tango

Few things in life delight me as much as irony.

And when the topic turns to celebrities and their cars, the fodder is nearly unending.

Especially when the talk is about celebrities who ‘go green.’

It’s hard to count the number of celebs who have been seen tooling around tinsel town in a Prius. A few of them are: Gwyneth Paltrow, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lopez, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Billy Joel and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Going a step further, George Clooney owns two electric vehicles; a Tango and a Tesla.

Alanis Morisette teamed up with Mercedes and was hooked up with an E320 BlueTec.

While I admire the image these people are trying to convey, I can see through the smoke screen and take a look at the real environmental impact they are making.

While a trip to the grocery store in a Prius might make a great tabloid cover shot, the trip to Namibia in a private jet is kept a bit quieter.

Yet when Brad Pitt jets off to Africa, he flies in a private jet and burns 11,000 gallons of jet fuel to travel about 9,000 miles. Let’s see… what is that… 0.8 miles per gallon? Way to save the Earth, Brad!

Burning 11,000 gallons of fuel in a Prius could get Pitt all the way to the MOON.

And most of the way back.

It’s the same story with other celebs, though props go to Leo DiCaprio for flying commercial airlines whenever possible.  

Aside from the private jets, the cars many of these people owned before making the switch to hybrid means they have a lot of ground to make up before their carbon footprint evens out.

For example, Cameron Diaz had a Porsche 911 Carrera and a Mercedes SL. Brad Pitt has been seen in an Audi Q7 and a Nissan Quest (yup, a minivan for Mr. Cool).

And now anti-establishment rocker Alanis Morisette drives an eco-friendly diesel? As her song goes, isn’t it ironic!

So what do you think: Are celebs in eco-friendly cars driving them for the Earth or treating them as fashion accessories?