Green Update: California Law Requires More Clean Cars by 2025

Los Angeles smog

Manufacturers are behind it, dealers hate it, but the California Air Resources Board (ARB) recently approved a plan to require automakers (those accounting for about 97 percent of new light-vehicle sales) to sell increasing volumes of electric, plug-in hybrid, or fuel cell powered cars by 2025. The target is 15.4 percent of all new cars.

That would translate to 1.4 million such cars (out of over 30 million total) on California roads. Smog emissions would be down 75 percent by 2025, global warming gases by 34 percent. These goals are similar to what the federal EPA standards proposed last year.

ARB, established by Governor Ronald Reagan in 1967, sets the rules to protect air quality in the state. The agency is unique among the states, but others can follow its regulations and standards. Ten other states have plans to adopt the new California Advanced Clean Cars regs, which could double the number of “zero-emissions” vehicles (ZEVs) on U.S. roads.

Naturally, the green groups love it. So do the major manufacturers, with reservations, though the costs of new technologies to implement the claimed $4-6,000 fuel savings over the life of the car would add about $1,900 to the price of a new car in 2025.

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Do People Still Care About Their Car’s Brand?

Consumer Reports Car Brand Perception study 2012

Two conflicting reports from the last couple of days have cast all kinds of confusion on what car buyers look for when shopping the major auto brands.

One story says car buyers don’t see any real differences in car companies, while another says car buyers are heavily influenced by their general feeling regarding a brand.

Yesterday, our man jgoods went into some great detail on one of those studies and what drives buyers toward, or away from, certain brands. I recommend you check out his story.

Both studies come from major, respected sources, and both make logical sense. But which is correct? Do buyers care about the brand of their cars or not?

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Study Shows New-Car Buyers Avoid the Hard Choices

Volt showroom

Buyers want quality and reliability, but only 38 percent were basically influenced by ratings, analysis and reviews when buying a new car. Some 43 percent avoided particular models and brands by following their preconceptions, hearsay and “common knowledge.”

J.D. Power’s ninth Avoider Study also found that 14 percent of buyers avoided imports “because of their origin,” the highest level in the history of the study. Only 6 percent refused to buy “American” cars, again the lowest figure in the study’s history. Gas mileage was the most important reason buyers cited for buying a particular vehicle.

So my takeaway is that new-car buyers are generally influenced by perception rather than reality; they are xenophobic; and they’re basically uninformed when they go to make a $20,000-plus purchase.

Buyers are clearly out of touch with the realities of where and how cars are produced (“Buy American” means next to nothing these days), what cars are in fact dependable, and how to make an informed decision. What influences them most is styling (biggest factor for 35 percent), says an L.A. Times story on the study.

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Maybe Ford’s Future Isn’t as Rosy as We Thought

2012 Ford Focus

Go to Ford’s campus in Dearborn, Mich., and try to find someone who isn’t smiling.

The company recently reported its best annual earnings since 1998, making 2011 the second most profitable year in the company’s 109-year history. After all the money was tallied, Ford’s net income for 2011 came in at $20.2 billion.

All the details you care to know about Ford’s financial situation can be found in a detailed CNN Money story.

In addition to the huge amounts of money rolling in, the company’s F-Series trucks still remain in the number one spot after 35 years. The new Fusion continues to generate positive reviews, and overall vehicle quality and company reputation is up. There just doesn’t seem to be anything stopping Ford right now.

Except there could be one tiny little problem.

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Coming in March: 2012 Toyota Prius C (C is for City)

So there, we blew it all in the headline. But the Prius C’s big story is that it appears to be a quite good subcompact hybrid from the king of the hybrids. And it will sell in the U.S. “with a starting MSRP below $19,000.”

It will be lighter and cheaper than its competition and beat them by bearing the Prius nameplate.

Curb weight is 542 lbs less than the standard Prius; mileage will be about the same (50 mpg combined), with 53 mpg in the city. Four trim levels will be offered, with good safety features and the usual electro-tech stuff, plus optional Entune system.

Those who have driven the car in Japan, where it is labeled the Aqua, liked especially its drive feel and handling. Inside Line called it

the most un-Prius-like Prius that Toyota has made to date. Here’s an eco champ that’s unexpectedly taut, sporty and, yes, even fun. It’s a surprisingly far cry from the regular Prius, a lovable fuel miser well known for its numb steering and aversion to cornering.

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Friday Craziness: Obama’s Million Dollar Chrysler and BMW’s Checkmate

2005 Chrysler 300

Check the CarGurus used car listings for a 2005 Chrysler 300, and you will find plenty of examples priced somewhere around $11,000-$14,000. Do some negotiating and you can probably score one even cheaper.

So what would make a bone-stock 300 worth a million bucks? Nothing. Not even if said car transported Tom Brady to the Super Bowl while spewing magical golden fairy dust from the exhaust.

2005 Chryslers just don’t sell for a million dollars, regardless of who drove them. So it’s with surprise that I show you this ad:

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New Ford Escape: Price, Style and Competition

2013 Ford Escape, left side view

Ford has announced tentative pricing for its 2013 Escape in four trim levels. Starting prices range from about $22,500 (depending on your zip code) for the base car to $36-37,000 for the Titanium, all fitted out with stuff you might love but don’t need.

A good description of what’s in each trim regarding engines, drivetrains and likely fuel economy is here. No more V6, and no more hybrid. Either the 1.6- or 2.0-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder will give you a choice of FWD or optional AWD.

Ford’s new design language (or a dialectical variant) continues the Focus look in this car, and I think it’s pretty bad. Not that the old Escape was a beauty—it was clunky and boxy, with absolutely no flair—but this car looks like a tarted-up CR-V that, like much of the competition, can’t decide whether it’s a crossover or a small SUV. The front end is a horror show.

It seems to be smaller inside than the former version, and Ford is gambling that this more carlike version will do better than the old hauler, which sold almost 2 million units and kept on selling well even in its last two years.

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Cars Coming Soon: A Lamborghini Surprise in Geneva

Lamborghini logo

Will we finally meet a Lamborghini SUV? A Raging Bull family sedan? An Aventador roadster?

All are possibilities, and, from what we hear, the Geneva Motor Show in March will finally confirm (or deny) the presence of at least two new Lambo models.

That’s big news, and would double the lineup of the two-car exotic automaker. It shouldn’t be too surprising, though, coming from a brand owned by ultra-ambitious Volkswagen.

How exciting will these two new models be? Let’s explore the options.

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Peugeot Out, Toyota In for Le Mans Race

Toyota TS030 Hybrid

World racing fans were shocked last week when Peugeot, after some real successes, abruptly withdrew from the Le Mans LMP (Le Mans Prototype) 24-hour competition.

Peugeot has had a great back-and-forth duel with Audi, both running turbodiesels, particularly last year, when the team lost by some 13.8 seconds after much lead-changing. Peugeots finished second through fifth, however, and won in 2009 (and also won the 12-hour Sebring race last year), while Audi took the crown seven years prior. Peugeot’s radical aero changes forced Audi to redesign its R18.

The reason Peugeot quit is money. Peugeot-Citröen has been struggling and has had to cut back to save 6,000 jobs. The company is putting its resources into new product launches, including hybrids.

The race in June will still be fascinating, however. You’ll see Toyota’s new entry, the TS030 hybrid (with support from a 3.4-liter V8 gas engine) and a new kind of capacitor storage. The car (above) is still testing and working out in Europe.

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2013 Ford Fusion: Not Number One, and Proud of It

2013 Ford Fusion

A great story yesterday at Bloomberg got me thinking about the constant fight in the auto world to be number one.

Every automaker fights to become number one and then, when it gets there, spends ample amounts of marketing money bragging about its greatness. They all do it, whether it’s having the number one selling truck, the top selling sedan, the best fuel economy, the highest safety ratings or, the mother of all number ones, being the top selling automaker in the world.

That last one is a war currently waged by General Motors (the current number one), Toyota (the recently displaced number one) and Volkswagen (which desperately wants to become number one).

Consumers, I would argue, really don’t care about which automaker is number one. They just want a great car. Judging from the story I ready yesterday, Ford might be figuring that out.

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