Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

So on my last blog post, I might have been a little harsh in criticizing Tesla. I’m always the first one to admit when I’m wrong, and I have to give the automaker props for achieving success in an extremely competitive market. In my defense though, I did say that 2013 would be a ‘make or break’ year for them, and I’m leaning toward this year being a ‘make’ year for Tesla. 

There are three really good reasons why Tesla deserves kudos for a job well done, aside from the obvious, which is to say that not many car ‘start-ups’ historically have even survived as long as Tesla has. First off, they have managed to make a really good car, even if you ignore the fact that the model S represents a total deviation from the norm since it does not run on an internal combustion engine. Consumer Reports gave the model S a 99 out of  a 100 score, which is incredibly difficult. It also won Motor Trend magazine’s 2013 car of the year award. And if you have ever seen one up close, you can tell right away that the body lines are sleek and streamlined, and that it’s obviously a luxury sedan, and looks very well made. 

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The second thing that Tesla has done right is living up to it’s corporate guidance, in other words, when the company says it will produce 2,000 cars a month, pay back the Department of Energy loan early and achieve profitability, and then actually does those things, it’s no wonder the company stock has more than doubled this year. Investors like companies that do what they say they are going to do, because it makes them feel more secure about their investment, and it’s not easy to accurately predict the future, but not impossible if the company is managed well. But the third thing that Tesla has going for it is the smart entrepreneur that’s leading the charge. CEO Elon Musk is obviously no dummy, and I find it interesting that in all the recent accolades given to Tesla and what the company has been doing right, I don’t always hear that the guy in charge is largely in part the reason for the company’s success. 

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It’s sad that other companies like Coda Automotive have failed, and Nissan hasn’t quite lived up to its expectations in Leaf sales, but love it or hate it, the electric car is not going away. It still comes down to the cost of batteries in my opinion, which is partly why I think Tesla has done well. They didn’t bother trying to produce a low-end car that ultimately would have been too expensive anyway (because batteries just aren’t cheap), which is what Coda did. Instead, they made a really nice car to compete with the luxury sedan market, and have actually outsold the Mercedes S class and BMW 7 series models. Yes, they’re still a small fish in a big pond, but you know what, I think they’re doing pretty good with all things considered. 

Once again, gas prices are rising and not surprisingly, the electric car market is still making headlines, specifically with Tesla thanks to a scathing test review of its new model S by New York Times writer John Broder. Despite Tesla’s claims that Broder fabricated data in his story (more like exaggerated in my opinion) the question remains whether or not now is the time for an electric vehicle that is priced in the stratosphere, and what the long term future will be for the Bay Area-based auto maker.

I honestly think 2013 will be a benchmark year for Tesla as they work hard to achieve profitability and somehow sell the idea of a luxury electric vehicle to ‘green’ driving enthusiasts. The EV industry is already working hard to sell the public on the idea of owning a pure electric vehicle in general let alone one that is priced well over, in fact more than double in some cases, the average price of nearly every EV that is now on the market. When you think about it, you would never buy a Tesla on the idea that you would be saving money on fuel costs. Why? Because even the cheap Model S cost more than $50K, with the higher performance version selling  for almost $100K. So, for example, if you buy a 2013 Honda Fit for $20K that gets at least 30 mpg, when you break it down,  it would be much cheaper to own than even the cheapest Tesla. So why buy a luxury EV? Is the ‘green’ Tesla the new smug impractical car to own, much like owning a Hummer use to be?

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On the financial side of things, Tesla has notoriously been losing money. Its losses in profits went from losing more that $50 million in 2009 to more than $250 million in 2011, and just recently announced, in 2012, the company lost almost $400 million. Despite all that, and the fact that they only produced about 3,000 cars last year, the company hopes that next quarter they will actually show a profit, and are on track to make approximately 20,000 cars by the end of the year. They also claim to have some 15,000 orders for the new model S. That sounds great for 2013, but will the demand sustain itself when the Wall St. Journal just reported that used vehicle sales are at an all-time high right now because drivers are looking at every possible means to save money. Used car dealers are actually having a hard time keeping any inventory. I hate to sound like a broken record, but more than a hundred years ago, Henry Ford succeeded in making the automobile highly successful by making it, at the very least, affordable to the masses. The Tesla seems like a very well-built car, but is it the EV that the auto industry has been craving for so long that will make electric cars mainstream?

Time for an update on the green car market. I don’t need to remind anyone that with gas prices approaching $5 a gallon (I live in CA) the market for more fuel efficient vehicles couldn’t be better right now, or is it?

So, we all know that there are quite a few choices when it comes to hybrid cars, and while the Toyota Prius is still popular, Chevy’s new Volt has done a good job of reinventing the hybrid with a much more efficient system, despite some issues with battery recalls and in my opinion, bad press. Only problem with the Volt, I think, is the price, and the Volt is not alone. New entry Coda Automotive and it’s 100% electric vehicle boasts a nice range, arguably better than the Nissan Leaf, but comes at a hefty price of close to $40K, which is about the same as the Volt. Of course, the Volt has the advantage of NOT being a 100% electric vehicle, giving hesitant EV buyers the piece of mind to know that their foray into the green car market won’t mean worrying about being left stranded somewhere when their charge dies and there isn’t a recharge station near by. I think that fear will linger for a while, but honestly, EVs are really not meant to be a long, road trip type car anyway.

So, lets consider sales figures. Nissan is struggling with only 5,212 Leafs sold in the US as of October(from the Detroit News), a far cry from the company’s goal of selling 20,000 Leafs by the end of this year, but considering Nissan’s early entry into the market, the advantage to the average consumer is the availability of used vehicles for sale, and we all know used is a lot cheaper than new. You can’t buy a used Coda since it’s a new vehicle this year, but do a simple search on Craig’s List and you’ll find 2011 Nissan Leaf’s for around $25K, and yes, I understand that a new Leaf is about the same price as the Coda, but since it has been on the market longer, it has had some time to mature, with new infrastructure to go along with it. If you go to Nissan’s website and look for charging stations, it says there are currently 6,300 nationwide and growing, but more importantly, they have some new stations that can recharge your Leaf in about 30 minutes. I consider this a big plus in one of the EVs biggest barrier to entry among new buyers: fear of limited range and long re-charge times, cost, however, is still an issue, which is why being able to buy one used, is a huge plus.

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The Chevy Volt on the other hand has sold more than 16K units to date this year, which is three times what it sold during the same period last year. A used Volt will run you about $30K plus, which is a little more than a used Leaf, but again, with potential buyers being fearful of a limited re-charging infrastructure, the Volt should continue to do well.

Most surprising I think on the green car front is Toyota’s recent announcement to scrap plans of a widespread rollout of its pure electric mini eQ car. Having been the early adopter of green cars when it introduced the Hybrid Prius, now more than 10 years old, logic would dictate that Toyota should be ‘gung ho’ to rollout a pure electric car, not pullback and say the market isn’t ready due to high production costs, long recharge times and limited range, although that is all probably true, a market takes time to mature, and they should know. When the Prius was first introduced, it really was not a cost-effective solution, i.e., the high-cost of the car was not offset by the fuel savings. However, Toyota is introducing an all-electric Rav4 that it has jointly produced with Tesla Motors and plans to roll out just 2,600 vehicles in the next three years­–not exactly the same as when it introduced the Prius in the US in 2000 and sold closer to 6,000 of them that first year. Has Toyota lost its nerve, or are they just being smart about making their next move into the green car market? The recent bankruptcy filing of A123, the Waltham Mass-based lithium ion battery producer, may just be evidence that Toyota knows exactly what they’re doing. Much like Nissan, Toyota has its own lofty sales targets to deal with. The Japanese carmaker has projected it will sell between 35K to 40K plug-in hybrids by the end of this year in Japan, but has so far only sold around 8,400. Much like the other EVs and hybrids, the Prius plug-in isn’t cheap. The standard plug-in Prius starts at $32K plus and the plug-in Hybrid Advanced is closer to $40K.

Time will tell who will come out on top. I think the biggest fear about owning a pure electric vehicle comes down to running out of juice with no where close by to recharge it. When you think about it though, this really shouldn’t be a big deal since you should have some idea how far you plan on driving before you leave the house, I mean you do the same with gas don’t you? The other thing is Nissan makes it easy to find out where the recharging stations are, and have drastically improved the time it takes to recharge a car, not to mention AAA has trucks that will come out and recharge your EV in case that ever happens (see my earlier blog on this topic). I’m sure it took time for a gas station to appear on nearly every corner, but think about how much work was involved in digging up the ground to install huge storage tanks, etc., all things you would NOT have to do to create a recharging station. A bigger issue is the need for better battery technology. Lithium is a highly unstable metal that is dangerous and expensive. I honestly believe this is a bigger barrier to entry than anything else. Admit it though, wouldn’t like to NOT have to buy gas?

by Thomas Zizzo

As of January 1, 2012, California’s new Child Safety Seat Law goes into effect. The new law requires parents to keep children properly buckled into a car seat or booster in the back seat until the age of eight. The old law stated that a child who is ‘6 years or 60 pounds’ needed to be in a safety seat.

A driver can be fined more than $475 and get a point on their driving record for each child under 16 years of age who is not properly secured in their vehicle.

Children age eight or older may use the vehicle seat belt if it fits properly with the lap belt low on their hips, touching the upper thighs, and with the shoulder belt crossing the center of the chest. If a child is not tall enough for proper belt fit, they must ride in a car seat or booster seat.

Vehicles are now explicitly forbidden from crossing double parallel solid white lines, commonly found in carpool lanes on highways.

A new adjustment to sobriety checkpoint regulations now prevents authorities from impounding vehicles at checkpoints when the driver’s only offense is failing to hold a driver’s license. The new law requires that the officer make a reasonable attempt to notify the registered owner in order to release the vehicle.

Repeat offenders can have their driver’s license suspended for 10 years if they have been convicted of at least three DUIs.

Electric vehicles must be plugged in for recharging when parking in an EV-designated space, otherwise they may be towed. In addition, the law prohibits a person from obstructing, blocking, or otherwise barring access to an EV-designated parking space.

Anyone who is convicted of reckless driving under Section 23103.5 of the vehicle code can apply for a restricted driver license prior to the completion of their one-year suspension, provided they meet specified conditions, including the installation of an Ignition Interlock Device in their vehicle.

-by Thomas Zizzo

I’m not sure why I’ve always liked smaller cars. I think maybe it’s because they’re not as common and typically get better gas mileage or are easier to park, whatever it is, I love driving little cars.

I put together this list of my favorites, but there are specific reasons why I chose these cars, and I will explain. First of all, it has to be small, and I understand that while some cars are relatively small-you can call them compact, some cars are really small; I’m looking more at the really small, but not so small it would be considered a micro car, such as a classic BMW Isetta, or a late 50’s Nash Metropolitan. Those cars didn’t make my list because not only are they considered micro, they no longer exist, and haven’t for quite some time. I believe that a car is really great if it has been around for a while, and evolved over generations of drivers while maintaining its original appeal. So you will notice on my list that these cars have been around for many years and can still be found today. Of course, the popularity of small cars seems to be on the rise when you look at some newer cars available now, such as the return of the little Fiat 500 to the United States, thanks to the merger with Chrysler, and the new Scion iQ. Only time will tell with these cars; are they a passing fad or a new standard. There may be other cool small cars out there, but these are my favorites.

VW Bug

The Volkswagen Beetle is hands down the greatest small car ever made, and before you jump in to argue, I’ll tell you why. There have been more VW Bugs made than any other car, yes, ANY other car, including the Ford Model-T when it surpassed an astounding 15 million plus cars sold by the early 70’s. Yes, there are cars that are smaller, but overall, a Bug is pretty darn small compared to most. When referring to vintage bugs(anything made prior to the late 70’s)they’re simple, easy to work on, cheap to maintain, and despite being small, they’re quite roomy inside. I can still remember the first time I went to park my ’61 Bug on a busy street that normally would have required a complex parallel parking maneuver, it was so easy I almost laughed. What amazes me even more is that the Bug still lives on, and while the new ones are a far cry from the original models, the soul of the little German car is going strong, and shows no signs of dying any time soon.

Mazda Miata

A Mazda Miata is pretty darn small, almost micro in size, and when it first debuted in 1989, it was such a huge hit that people paid above sticker price to get one-what???! Yep, they did, in fact most dealerships had waiting lists for the little convertibles. The inspiration for the Miata came from the vintage MGs and two-seat roadsters of the late 50’s and 60’s, and for whatever reason, by the late 80’s and early 90’s, small convertible sports cars were non-existent. The Miata is still produced, although much more refined than its first inception. You might say that the age of small roadsters was destined to make a comeback with the introduction of the Miata, and why not, they’re a blast to drive, just make sure you don’t need to bring any luggage larger than a gym bag for a road trip.

Austin/BMW Mini

The Mini of course prides itself on being small, hence the name. Much like the VW Bug, it’s hard not to fall in love with the little car, and its popularity is arguably just as big. Some might consider it micro-an original vintage one maybe, but I would argue that it isn’t quite as small as it looks. The inside of a vintage Mini is actually very roomy, considering its size. Hollywood made it uber-famous with the 1969 cult classic film The Italian Job, and when BMW took over the brand in 2001, the spirit of the Mini was kept alive, even if the new Mini is a little larger than its humble beginnings. Point being, small is still cool, and the Mini keeps that idea alive even today.

Jeep

The Jeep CJ, known today simply as the Wrangler (CJ stood for Civilian Jeep) was arguably the first true SUV, and when you really look at one, they’re small, at least I think so. Not many vehicles have evolved yet remained true to its original flavor like the Jeep. It literally defined a new category of car-not a truck, but not a passenger car, it is something else. The CJ was first introduced after the vehicle’s huge success during WW2, and much like the military version, the CJ was simply unbreakable and could go just about anywhere. I think people have always had a desire for adventure, especially with their cars, and what better to fulfill that desire than with a Jeep. It has changed owners/manufacturers over the years (Willys, AMC, Chrysler) but the overall concept and look has stayed the same. Even when SUVs became all the rage in recent years, the Jeep was always a contender in its class, and thanks to its compact size, the only reason other SUVs have done well is because the Jeep is considered by many to be too small. As I have said before, time will tell, and the Jeep truly lives up to the idea that good things come in small packages.

-Thomas Zizzo

Being a car enthusiast, you might say there are plenty of cars I would consider my ‘dream’ car. Of course, a 1970 Boss 429 Mustang will run me close to a quarter of a million dollars, but just because my dream car seems a little out of reach doesn’t mean other potential dream cars are that impossible to own.

Silver Shadow Rolls Royce

Built between 1965 and 1980, the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow has the classic look that just screams the highest level of quality and design that the British luxury car-maker is known for. You just can’t get a more luxurious car than a Rolls Royce, except for maybe a Bently, which is made by the same company. It’s safe to say any true auto enthusiast would dream of owning a Rolls, but many might not know it isn’t really that crazy to own one. Ok, so a new one will cost you as much-if not more-than my own personal dream car, but you can easily pick up an early 70’s model Silver Shadow for around $15K or less. That’s not bad considering the level of quality in which a Rolls Royce is produced. They are literally hand made. If you see wood on the dash, it’s REAL wood that the factory cut and varnished themselves. In an age of mass production with ultra-cheap labor, you can’t get anything better for an automobile at that price. Of course, a tune-up and/or replacement parts may cost you an arm and a leg.

1970's Silver Shadow Rolls Royce

 

Magnum PI Ferrari 308

If you grew up in the 1980’s like I did watching the rogue private investigator played by Tom Selleck cruising the backroads of Hawaii, you’ll remember one thing for sure-the red 308 Ferrari he drove. That iconic ride is so distinctly Ferrari and was once considered a dream car that only the well-off could own. Now, for between $25K to $40K, and a retro Detroit Tigers baseball hat, you too can look like Magnum PI cruising down the street. It’s arguably still not a cheap car, but it sure will get you noticed, and given the price for just about any other Ferrari, it would be considered an ‘entry-level’ car of its kind, and wouldn’t be a bad investment.

 

Ferrari 308

 

Porsche 944

Nothing says performance and style like a Porsche, but even old Porsches, except for maybe the 914, ok, and the 924, aren’t exactly cheap. Then there’s the 944, which if you remember from the iconic John Hughes film Sixteen Candles, the coolest guy in the movie (Jake Ryan) drove a red 944. For a long time I dreamed of picking up a date in a cool red Porsche like the one he drove in the movie, and now, that dream car will cost a whopping $5K or less. I couldn’t even get a classic Mustang for that-at least one that doesn’t need a total overhaul.

1986 Porsche 944

 

Lexus LS400

A 1995 Lexus LS400 was probably the most luxurious (LS stands for luxury sedan) Japanese car you could ever buy. With premium options, an LS400 could have had a sticker price of more than $40K, and why shouldn’t it, for that kind of money you got the reliability of a Toyota, but the luxury of a Cadillac. It was such a cool car that even Bill Gates drove one, making the Lexus the car to have if you wanted to be like Bill. But that was then and now, for less than $5K, you can own one of these comfortable and luxurious cars. I would say that out of all the cars I’m putting on this list, it would arguably be the best buy for the money. Back in the late 90’s, it was rumored that this very car was a status symbol for Microsoft employees, not just because Bill Gates drove one, but because it was also a really nice car.

Lexus LS400

 

Pontiac GTO 2005-06

The Pontiac GTO introduced in 1964 is widely regarding as being the first true muscle car. It’s aggressive styling and brute horsepower started a trend among American carmakers that would define an unforgettable era in automotive history.

Fast forward to 2004 with the reintroduction of the GTO. By now, American carmakers were long criticized for putting out cars that lacked the sleek styling of their European counterparts. The new GTO not only looked like a European sports car, but boasted big performance as well. The 2005/06 models got even better when GM replaced the LS1 motor with the more popular LS2 engine used in Corvettes, giving the GTO more than 400 horsepower and a 0 to 60 time of less than 5 seconds. The cool styling and strong performance made the car a big hit, but at a hefty price of well over $30K, ok, arguably that’s cheaper than a Corvette, but we are still talking about a two door sports car. Keeping in mind a 2006 Pontiac GTO is only 5 years old, you can easily pick one up for about $15K, not bad considering the LS2 engine by itself costs about that much.

 

2006 Pontiac GTO

So here is what I consider to be the ugliest American cars ever made. Yes, there are plenty of foreign cars that got hit with the ugly stick, but for the purposes of this list, I’m sticking with American cars, and the good ole’ US of A has had a few duds over the years when it comes to looks and styling.

Starting with the bottom is the Cadillac Cimarron. While I realize that the Cimarron is not the ugliest American car on the road, it forever changes the term, ‘the Cadillac of…’ when used to describe the best of something. As the term suggests, a Cadillac is supposed to be the ultimate in design and styling, which the Cimarron is not. Most Cadillac fanatics will tell you they do not even consider the Cimarron a Cadillac. It was ugly, poorly made and completely un-like what a Cadillac should be.

Cadillac Cimarron

Next up is the Chevy Chevette. This car came during a time when gas was becoming very expensive-if you could get it at all-and obviously no one in the US could figure out how to make an economy car look cool, kind of like the early days of diet food, sure it was good for you, but it tasted so bad most preferred to starve. The US had to compete with the likes of Honda and Toyota, and while they got the size right, that was about the only thing they got right. All you could really say about this car in the late 70’s was that it got good gas mileage and it was easier to park than most of its American brothers and sisters.

Chevy Chevette

Coming in at number eight is the Chevy Citation. This is the line that replaced the Chevette, and believe it or not, won Motor Trend’s car of the year for 1980. Still doesn’t change the fact that it was ugly. It looks like a boxy, bloated Pinto, and yes, that’s on the list too.

Chevy Citation

At number seven on the list is a more recent design, the 2001 Pontiac Aztek. It kind of looks like a cross between an SUV and a Toyota Prius-yikes! It’s hard to tell if it’s an SUV or a car, today we call them ‘crossover’ vehicles, but the body lines have no distinct style, it’s over done with plastic body cladding, and the bumpers, well, just look at it, it’s pretty damn ugly.

2001 Pontiac Aztek

Number six on the list is probably a car not many have heard of, and the fact that it was hideously ugly may be why. AMC, who has brought to the car world some pretty ugly cars, introduced the Matador in 1971. It replaced the previous Rebel line of cars, and I think it represents the worst of 70’s styling, much like a few other AMC cars. If you took the front end of a Ford Pinto, stretched out the wheelbase, slapped some Corvair taillights on it, then added a Chevy Vega roofline, you get something that looks like a Matador.  Even worse was the Barcelona model, which came standard with an interior that no car should ever have, even seatcovers from the flea market would look better than that interior.

Next up is the Mustang II. By 1974, the Ford Mustang was due for a radical change, unfortunately, the muscle car era was over, and smaller, more fuel efficient cars were on every car makers mind, too bad styling was not. Looking like something between a Pinto and a bad dream, the Mustang II represented a huge shift for the popular sports car. Unfortunately, the Mustang wouldn’t look cool again until at least 1985. It came in the Pinto fastback version, or the boxier standard type-both were incredibly ugly. The only good thing that came out of the Mustang II was that hot rodders could take the front ends out of them and bolt them up to their old rides giving them independent front suspension and disc brakes.

1974 Mustang II1976 Mustang II Cobra

1976 Mustang II Cobra

Number four on the list is the AMC Gremlin. The name alone screams ugly, but in my opinion, it still isn’t as ugly as its close cousin, which is number two on my list. It was yet another car meant to compete in an auto market where cars were getting smaller and more fuel efficient, but its looks were nothing like the more popular imports of its day. The 70’s were destined to be an era of odd automotive styling, and the Gremlin was evidence of that trend.

AMC Gremlin

At number three is the Ford Pinto. It would forever be synonymous with failure. It not only had ugly styling, but it was plagued with mechanical problems, most notably, its propensity to explode with a rear end collision. Of all the really bad designs that came out of the 70’s, the Pinto somehow gets looked at as the benchmark of bad design, but next up on the list is actually worse.

Ford Pinto

I would say the AMC Pacer should be number one, but it was a very difficult decision and it took the number two spot. What can you say about it, it’s so ugly it’s hard to know where to start. When it debuted in 1975, Road Testmagazine said it looked like a ‘four-foot submarine sandwich’. The Pacer even made the Pinto look tame, which is saying a lot, I think. Personally it reminds me of those odd space ships that were used for the series Lost in Space. If you want people to stare at you while you’re driving, get a Pacer.

AMC Pacer

Number one should be no surprise. The 1958 Ford Edsel was hands down the ugliest car ever made, even though I personally think the Pacer was uglier, more people will say ‘Edsel’ when they think of an ugly American car. It was the grill, that toilet seat or horse collar front end is what sealed its fate for sure.

1958 Ford Edsel