Too Late: CfC Money’s Almost Gone. Buying This Weekend? C’mon In!

Cash for Clunkers

The Cash for Clunkers program has surprised a lot of people with its success, but it may be too successful. The Detroit Free Press and others report that its funds are nearly exhausted, “leaving thousands of dealers and consumers in the lurch.” And yet, President Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said yesterday,

If you were planning on going to buy a car this weekend, using this program, this program continues to run. If you meet the requirements of the program, the certificates will be honored.

Who’s on first here?

Lawmakers and the administration are making a desperate search today to find more funds before Congress adjourns—tomorrow. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), which runs the CARS (CfC) program, said that 22,798 vehicles worth about $96 million had been sold. They also said that the “vast majority” of deals were being rejected for incomplete or ineligible paperwork. NADA, the National Automobile Dealers Association, reported some 25,000 deals (13 trades per store) had been submitted but not yet approved by NHTSA.

The upshot seems to be that dealers may have sold, or agreed to sell, more than the 250,000 cars and trucks the plan has funds for. Ouch. One consequence is that dealers have invested millions in promoting the program this weekend—for nothing. We know how all-important recess is, but you Congresspeople had better get on the stick. We must assume the feds aren’t going to leave drivers and dealers holding the bag because they screwed up.

1998 Isuzu Rodeo (not the McGowans')

If it continues, the CARS program ought to be revised so it can live up to its original premise, which was not just providing stimulus to the car industry but getting truly dirty cars off the road. (Wikipedia has a good, up-to-date history here.) We’ve read too many stories like this one: Patrick McGowan and his wife told Bloomberg they

wouldn’t have traded in their 1998 Isuzu Motors Ltd. Rodeo for a new car if it weren’t for the $4,500 rebate they got through the clunkers program and the additional $2,000 rebate from Hyundai [for a new Elantra]… “Our car had 140,000 miles on it,” he said. “We in a million years weren’t going to buy a new car.”

How about, finally, getting the mileage and age qualifications straightened out so the program will really remove stinkers from the highway, instead of vehicles that are only marginal? If the government put money into a really effective (and lots less bureaucratic) CfC, we could all cheer.

Do you think the CARS/CfC program should be given more funding and continue? Or should the government find a more effective way to promote its environmental and economic goals?


UPDATE Big front-page news this (Friday) afternoon: The House approved $2 billion to extend the CfC program. Funds will come from a set-aside approved for the Department of Energy. But don’t start dancing just yet: The Senate, still in session next week, must take up the matter, and all are expecting “spirited debate.”

There is still plenty of unhappiness among dealers, some of which echoes our points made above. See Adam Lee’s report to Green Inc., the energy/environment/business blog of the NY Times. His remarks are spot on, according to others I’ve heard.

Best Cars for a Long Summer Drive with Your Honey


The end of July is here, and before we know it, August 2009 will be in the history books.

I think we all need to make sure this summer is one to remember; the summer of ’09 should be right up there with the summer of ’69. In fact, let’s put that summer to shame by embracing our wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, or people we picked up on Craigslist, packing up a killer car, and hitting the highway for a road trip to who knows where.

Your minivan isn’t going to cut it, though. What kind of rebel adventure can you have tooling around in a ’02 Caravan? For this trip, when it’s just you and your sweetie, you’ll need one of these cars:

Jaguar XK

If you’re looking to travel in attention-getting class, find yourself a version of this sexy convertible. Heck, you could even go get yourself a 1997 XK8 for about eight grand and still look like you’re cruising the States in a $60,000 car. You’ll feel like a modern-day James Dean hitting the accelerator in this baby.

Lexus RX 330/350

I recommend this vehicle for two reasons. First, the rear windows come factory tinted, and the rear seats fold completely flat. ‘Nuff said there.

Second, when you’re ready to pull back onto the highway, you’ll travel in leather-and-wood opulence while still getting fuel mileage in the mid-20s. You can’t go wrong.

Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI

The key here is “TDI.” Go on a road trip without the diesel, and you’re just another wagon on the road getting in the way of the Porsches and Jaguars in the left lane. With the diesel, though, you won’t care, because you’ll suddenly go a good 450 miles between fill ups. Good thing the seats are good enough to keep you comfortable for those long hauls.

Maybach 62

I’m assuming you are rich beyond belief by recommending this ride. But seriously, if you can secure yourself one of these rad rides, you’ll guarantee your sweetie the time of his or her life. And you’ll probably benefit, too, from the insanely huge back seat, the beverage coolers, the video monitors, the reclining rear seats, the power privacy curtains….

Porsche 911

I don’t care what year… if you can get your speedy little paws on one of these for a two-week road trip, do it! Nothing says “I don’t care where I’m going because I’m getting there in style” like a 911. This car is epic. You’ll feel like king of the world while blasting George Thorogood songs and weaving through traffic like a madman. Of course, you’ll end up passing the same Jetta TDI a hundred times, because you’ll have to stop for gas while it keeps chugging along.

Toyota Tercel

Stay with me on this one for a minute… I speak from personal experience. Get a Tercel that doesn’t have air conditioning. Yeah, it may seem crazy for a summer road trip, but if you’re a guy traveling with a girl, it’s worth it. You see, there’s a very good chance she’ll get so hot she’ll wear nothing but a bikini. Then you can spray her with a water bottle to keep her cool as the temps reach 105 degrees in Southern Idaho. It’ll be a trip you’ll never forget.

What are your favorite road-tripping cars?


Car Sculpture as Something Less Than Art

Giant Audi TT Sculpture

In case you missed the great event, Audi proudly unveiled a giant 10-ton TT sculpture in its home city of Ingolstadt, Germany. Dr. Werner Widuckel, Member of the Board of Management for Human Resources at Audi AG, and Dr. Alfred Lehmann, mayor of Ingolstadt, are shown here, looking totally foolish beside the be-ribboned beast that has already been shown in such eager locales as Berlin, Munich, Beijing, and Hong Kong.

The article in AudiWorld provides predictably blah-blah quotes from these fellas about the sculpture’s significance as a landmark—and the “100 Years of Audi” celebration on July 16, which passed without much notice. In a strange oversight, the article didn’t even include a photo. We got the one above from

Now, why do carmakers (and other companies) make gestures like this? One could also ask why the Pharaohs built their tombs and pyramids, or why Audi’s giant car should be called a sculpture at all. There’s a structure in Chicago (above left – Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate) that qualifies, I think, to use that word.

Audi’s “sculpture” is just a glorified ad—like that enormous bug (above right) on the highway in Providence, Rhode Island, advertising an exterminator’s services. Then of course there’s Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, probably the ultimate car tomb, celebrated in story and song. Now that’s a car sculpture worthy of the name.

What do you think about car sculpture as art? What car would you like to see sculpted, and where would you put it?


Ferrari 458 Italia… Whoa, baby!


I think I fall in love too easily.

Especially when I’m looking at an exotic Italian all dressed up in red and outfitted in sexy leather.

Heck, I was in love with the Ferrari F430, but now her replacement has stolen my heart.

The new Ferrari 458 Italia will make its public debut in September in Frankfurt. (It might be worth the plane ticket just to see it in person.) For now, though, we get to see the pictures and read specs that make us drool.

Like its name implies, the 458 is powered by a 4.5-liter 8-cylinder engine. But here’s where it gets really good: That engine will crank out 570 horsepower at a breathtaking 9,000 rpm. That’s not a typo – nine thousand revolutions per minute. If I’m not mistaken, that would make the 458 the highest-revving production Ferrari ever built. From a standstill, 62 miles per hour should be reached in less than 3.5 seconds.

The sporty 458 Italia will be built alongside its sister, the more luxurious Ferrari California, in Maranello, Italy.

Speaking of the California, viewers of HBO’s Entourage were treated to some eye candy when Jerry “My last name is one letter away from Ferrari” Ferrara’s Turtle character was given a California as a birthday gift. Yeah, a $240,000 birthday present.

The episode also featured some sweet track time as a group of F430 Scuderias peeled some serious pavement. A clip featuring that race, the giving of the California, and a surprise appearance by 50 Cent in a Rolls-Royce is below. It’s good viewing, I promise!

If you had a spare $240K laying around, what car would you buy? Would you keep it or give it as a birthday gift?


CFC Does Not Stand for Chlorofluorocarbons


Turns out there are so many things wrong with Cash for Clunkers (CFC) that we can only scratch the surface here. The biggest flaw so far is the unfortunate bait-and-switch the government pulled in changing the fuel economy rating for some 30,000 vehicle models, which has caused and will cause situations like this:

“My wife just received a call from the sales manager saying that our clunker doesn’t qualify anymore, and that we could either pay the extra $4,500 or return the new car (and get our old car back),” Greg Straka wrote Tuesday on a message board at the automotive web site.

He had signed a document agreeing to provide additional documentation needed to process his trade-in, but had not done so yet, Straka wrote.

He had made the deal for his new car last Saturday, the day after program rules were supposed to have been finalized, Straka wrote in an e-mail to But the fuel economy information on the car apparently changed the next day, he said.

The Feds changed the rules, last-minute, because of bad data on some models. Imagine that! Many dealers are unhappy with the whole program, saying, among other things, “We will waste more time f****** with this than it will ever be worth. The rebates are in place to subsidize the deal. Collecting our money will be a full time job.”

So if you as a potential trader are trying to get in on the scam, make sure you qualify. The government has a trade qualification site to walk you through the process. So does Ford. But the whole program is cumbersome, bureaucratic, and badly conceived.

On the latter point, this video brings up both valid and silly objections to the program. You be the judge.

Well, over half the comments received on the video above at The Truth About Cars were slams at Fox News and/or Stuart Varney. But here are some with more substance. Many pointed out that the program doesn’t do much of anything for the environment.

If the vouchers all go to people that would have bought a more fuel efficient car anyway, then they don’t help the environment. If someone takes the $4,500 and decides that with that now they can use that money to step up to the V6 Malibu instead of the four cylinder (or the Cobalt) to replace their truck, then it doesn’t help the environment. If all it does is cause someone to replace their truck one year earlier, it helps the environment a small bit, but not all that much.

One dealer said,

People don’t just want the money, they want to be spending less on fuel. Yes, we are selling some SUVs, CUVs, and trucks on the program, but those CUVs get almost as good of mileage as many cars, and some people just need an SUV or truck. Plus, even if the fuel economy improvement is only 1 or 2 mpg, the difference in tailpipe emissions between a 1990 Dodge Pickup and a 2009 F-150 is orders of magnitude greater.


This segment feels less like watching Fox news and more like watching the Simpsons or Family Guy. It’s Fox actually telling the truth. CFC is narrowly tailored to help the “domestics” without violating trade agreements. Worse, it’s the federal government assisting scum bag dealers in doing bait and switches.

Why don’t you weigh in on this? Is CFC of real benefit to anybody? What do taxpayers get out of it? Should the $4,500 rebate be taxed?


The Winner in Overall Quality Is…


Quick, name the carmaker with the best quality in the land.

Honda would be my first guess. Many (if not most) of you will probably say Toyota.

No one in their right mind would say Chrysler. A couple folks might mention GM, but they’d be crazy.

And there’s a growing number of diehards out there who swear Ford builds the highest quality vehicles available. Toyota and Honda loyalists would scoff at such absurdity, but apparently, it’s those Ford people who are right.

The source for that information, conveniently enough, is Ford’s own company blog, where they cite a survey by RDA Group of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Yeah, I hadn’t heard of it either, but evidently its survey compared issues per 1,000 vehicles in the second quarter of 2009.

Ford’s results showed 1,185 issues per 1,000 vehicles.

I’ll give you a moment to read that again.

I don’t know about you, but I look at those numbers and think that’s a pretty sucky outcome. How can Ford come out on top of the survey when out of 1,000 vehicles, all of them had at least one problem? Sure doesn’t seem like anything to brag about.

The same study, though, revealed 1,215 problems for Toyota, while Honda had 1,291.

I admit that, out of the domestics, Ford appears to have the highest quality, most relevant product line, most innovative technology, and best designed cars available. I’m actually dang impressed by the company’s current position and future outlook. I’m not convinced, though, that the cars Ford’s building today will prove in the future to be as reliable as the machines coming out of Honda’s assembly plants.

For the sake of the U.S. auto industry, though, I really hope I’m wrong.

Do you believe Ford produces the highest quality vehicles available right now?


College Students Create EV That Recharges in 10 Minutes


Forget Tesla.

Forget Nissan’s ambitious electric vehicle plans.

Mercedes wants to build an electric Gullwing supercar? Let ’em cater to the super rich.

Take the Chevy Volt’s 40-mile range and laugh in its face.

In fact, forget all the corporate EV hype and overnight-recharging technology.

I’m looking to a group of college students to solve the electric-vehicle conundrum of creating an EV with an extended driving range and a quick recharge.

Check this out: A student-built electric car can fully recharge in just ten minutes, travel 200 miles on a charge, and do the 0-60 run in just 9 seconds. A group from MIT (naturally) took a 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid and then added 7,905 lithium iron-phosphate batteries to achieve the goal of creating a little something they call rapid recharge. So far, the big manufacturers haven’t been able to do what these college folks did.

Get this technology into mass production, and bingo, we can put a check mark next to the “create electric vehicle” box and move on to the next big innovation. Come on MIT – we want flying cars next!

Should we rely on auto manufacturers to bring us electric vehicles, or should we be open to looking at college campuses, too?


Tipping smart Cars: Not Funny. Seriously, Stop Laughing


I don’t condone tipping other people’s cars into canals.

Destruction of property is a pointless, crass, and unacceptable behavior that is never funny… unless it involves tiny cars and Dutch canals.

Here’s the deal: It seems some pranksters in the Netherlands have discovered that the smart fortwo is an easy target when parked precariously near Amsterdam’s canals. Just lift up the car by the front and…what do you know…it easily tips right into the waiting canal below.

I’m guessing it takes a certain amount of alcohol before the vandals think this actually seems like a good idea, but you have to admit that the thought of multiple minuscule fortwos bobbing in Dutch canals makes you smile.

Maybe this isn’t just a prank, though. Maybe it’s strategy to eradicate competition in the small-car market. Perhaps you read about GM’s Bob Lutz jetting to “the Caribbean” after chastising his own company’s ad campaigns. Maybe “the Caribbean” is actually code for “I’ll be in the Netherlands tipping tiny cars into the water to make room in the market for the Chevy Spark, since it’s obvious our advertising won’t work.”

If  this car-tipping thing catches on, the Dutch just might pass on purchasing a 1,600-pound smart car in favor of a 4,500-pound Hummer H3. The only way that’ll go under water is if the loan ends up way more valuable than the car.

As funny as I think smart tipping is, I think the still-at-large vandals could have a lot more fun just moving the cars.

Imagine how funny it would be to get a group of four guys together, each taking a corner of a smart car or MINI Cooper, and carrying it onto a sidewalk before retreating to the bushes and watching the befuddled owner try to figure out how his or her car got there.

Hilarious… and no harm done.

Come on, the thought of  “smart tipping” makes you laugh, doesn’t it?


Cash for Clunkers, not Junkers


Well, there’s big Internet noise about the opening of the government’s program to redeem your old (but not too old) car for cash. Formally called the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS; clever, these acronymic bureaucrats), the Cash for Clunkers program has excited potential car traders everywhere.

There’s a happy story in the Chicago Tribune about the Musinski family, who finally brought themselves to part with their 1990 Ford Econoline van. “Belching black smoke and rusting from the wheels up, the once-rockin’ van—replete with curtains, a TV, and even a CB radio”—made its last mile to their local dealer. Worth about $300 street value and rated at 11 mpg, the clunker earned the Musinskis $4,500 on a 2009 Hyundai Accent, listing for $14,485. After discounts and the Clunker rebate, they paid $8,259, a helluva price for a new car.

If your trade meets the requirements (made within the past 25 years, drivable, rated at 18 mpg or less when new), you get a $4,500 rebate. Rated at 22 to 19 mpg, you get $3,500. There are some other twists and turns in the rules, so check with the CARS site.

Already dealers are complaining they can’t get on the website to register, some are getting rejected, and they don’t like the fact that they have to disable the clunker’s engine by running it for 7 minutes with sodium silicate instead of oil. They also don’t like the fact that they have to get the titles of the cars from the owners to get the federal reimbursement. To which we say, “Suck it up, dealers – the gravy train is over. You’re even getting reimbursed $50 for each car you disable.”

Some car companies are trying to throw blood in the water by adding their own rebates to the government’s. Chrysler is making much of its offer to add up to $4,500 or zero-percent financing for 72 months on Chrysler, Jeep, or Dodge vehicles bought by August 31, whether or not a trade-in qualifies for the CARS program. Mazda is adding a $500 cash incentive “if you qualify for the full Clunker rebate.” Toyota is offering special 60-month leases for the Clunker program with very attractive rates.

If you go the Clunker route, watch out for scams, and follow the Better Business Bureau’s advice:

Avoid anyone who offers a money order, check or direct deposit for the rebate. Car buyers can only benefit from CARS by getting the reimbursement amount reduced from the purchase price of the new vehicle. Find the current value of the clunker on your own. If it exceeds $4,500, selling the clunker or a normal trade-in may be a more cost-effective route. Know the scrap value of the clunker. If the dealership takes the gas guzzler, it may be able to sell a few specified parts, but the vehicle must be destroyed. Consumers can negotiate the new vehicle price with the clunker but it will only be worth the scrap value to the dealership. Dealerships are required to give consumers a scrap value estimate.

Remember, the CARS program is for new vehicles only.

Are you thinking about trading in a qualified clunker? Please tell us about it.


Is That an ’09 Escalade or a ’90 Blazer? I Can’t Tell…


Remember seeing old VW Beetles with a Rolls-Royce grille attached to the front?

When I was growing up I’d see them around town, shaking my head in disgust at even a relatively young age. Why take a cheap car and adorn it with a front end associated with the super rich? I sure knew it wasn’t fooling anyone into believing the driver had a Rolls. And it was plain ugly. Even today, the point of such modifications completely passes me by.

I was reminded of the absurdity of it all when a friend sent me this picture of a Chrysler 300C (below). With a Bentley grille.

Right. I can understand wanting to modify your car and personalize it so it suits your personality, but why on earth identify yourself to the masses as someone who thinks everyone else on the planet is moronic enough to believe you actually bought a Bentley?

I don’t question the fact that Bentleys look a lot like Chryslers, which is not a compliment (in fact, I’ve gone as far as calling Bentley one of the ugliest cars available.) There’s still an undeniable luster a Bentley has that a Chrysler will never approach, even with Bentley’s logo gracing the front end.

I’ve even seen an obvious Chevy Blazer decked out in Cadillac Escalade badging. Pretty convincing, especially with the Chevrolet badge still dangling from the rear end.

Why do people do this to their cars? If you were to customize your car with an exotic front end, what would you do? I’m thinking an Aston Martin V12 Vanquish front end would look sweet on my ’07 Suzuki SX4.