Archive for category Cars

A Continuing Theme RE: Hybrids

So, I’m not sure if anyone clicked through to read (re-read?) my old blogs about about hybrid FUD, but I actually did go back and read my old stuff today,  Back in 2006, I wrote:

In 2004, Robert Lutz, GM’s Vice Chairman of Product Development came out very strongly saying that building hybrids didn’t make economic sense.  But next year, they plan to introduce the Chevy Tahoe as a hybrid.  To be fair, Lutz was specifically saying that compact hybrid cars didn’t make sense, and that SUVs were a better option.  So, it’s not a complete contradiction.  However, he justified this statement by citing the price of gasoline – then $1.50/gal on the average – as the reason it didn’t make sense.  The current price is around $2.36/gal.  Considering that the national average was over $3.00 just a few short months ago and hasn’t been below $2.00 for over a year, I think it’s safe to say some new calculations are in order.  Especially if Dubya makes good on his thinly-veiled threats to invade Iran, a move than many economists believe would drive the price of oil to a staggering $100/barrel. 

Wow.  Yeah, so . . . back then, I talked about those “crazy” high gas prices of $3.00/gal.  I’d kill for that now.  Gas crossed the $4.00/gal point back in June of this year.  Furthermore, that “staggering” price of $100/barrel that I worried about is ancient history.  We haven’t been under $100/barrel for months and we peaked at over $140/barrel back in June.

Still think hybrid are just for tree-huggin liberals?

Did I mention: Gotcha bitch!

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Puh-leeze. More Hybrid FUD

I’ve previously mentioned (here) the ridiculous level of FUD out there related to hybrid cars.  In one of my previous posts, I pointed out the silly hand wringing related to the “dangerously silent” hybrids.  Well, it looks as if the California state legislature is set to outlaw the silence:

Electric and hybrid vehicles may be better for the environment, but the California Legislature says they’re bad for the blind.

It has passed a bill to ensure that the vehicles make enough noise to be heard by visually impaired people about to cross a street.

The measure would establish a committee to study the issue and recommend ways the vehicles could make more noise.

Are you effing kidding me? 

Great idea.  Here’s my new design for the Prius:

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More Hybrid FUD: Blame the Driver

I recently pointed out how much FUD is going around about hybrid cars.  As a hybrid owner, this is an issue near and dear to my heart.  The latest tactic in the war on hybrids appears to be “smear the driver.”

This stupid article I just found claims that hybrid drivers are so miserly that they intentionally drive “slowly” in the fast lane to conserve fuel.

“These idiot hybrids are clogging up the car-pool lane,” huffed Bob De Marco of Gilroy, Calif., blaming drivers for cruising in the fast lane at less than 65 mph when others want to zoom along at 75-plus.

The speed at which hybrids cruise “is infuriating,” said Andy Francke of Morgan Hill, Calif.

Fuck you, Andy.  This is bullshit.  Driving a hybrid has not made me drastically alter my driving style.  Sure, driving slower might improve fuel economy, but isn’t that true of most cars?  The article claims that the trip-o-meter in the hybrids encourages this hyper-focus by reporting instantaneous  gas mileage.  My old VW Passat had a similar kind of display.  I can’t say it ever made me adjust my speed.

But it gets even better.  Some dope named Jim Thomas of the National Motorists Association had this to say:

Many motorists perceive drivers of hybrids as arrogant, trendy, greener-than-thou types who tend to flout their environmental consciousness as they proudly display the stickers on their cars

He also said that it’s “not surprising that the hybrid drivers are generating animosity” with their alleged slow-poke ways.

So remember everyone: Hybrids are bad.  People who buy hybrids are arrogant pricks.  You don’t need to feel guilty for driving a gas guzzler; to do otherwise would instantly make you into an asshole.

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Highlander Hybrid Makes CR’s Top Picks

Each year, Consumer Reports puts together a list of “top picks” from among the vehicles currently on the market.  I’m proud to say that my new car, the 2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, was selected as the top vehicle in its class.

The Highlander Hybrid is in the “Mid-sized SUV/SUV more than $30,000” category.  According to CNN’s story about the CR top picks:

The Highlander Hybrid has quick acceleration, a comfortable ride and a third-row seat. The Highlander Hybrid and the closely-related Lexus RX400h were the only SUVs to earn an overall “Excellent” score in Consumer Reports’ testing. The magazine recommended the Honda Pilot as another good choice with a better third-row seat.

It’s interesting to note that Japanese manufacturers took all ten spots in CR’s list this year.  Honda was the big winner with five.  Toyota and Subaru had two each, and Nissan had one. 

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Hybrid FUD

I’m getting really fed up with the ridiculous FUD that people are spreading about hybrid cars.  In this post, first I’m going to call attention to some of the more outrageous garbage that people are saying about hybrids.  I’d also like to examine the various reasons why people are inclined to talk trash about hybrids.  Once we understand what drives these people, it’s far easier to see why they spread their disinformation. 

The latest, stupidest bit of crap “news” that I saw about hybrids is that hybrid cars are “so quiet that pedestrians can’t hear it when it’s starting up or idling, and they often walk right into the path of the moving vehicle.”  Give me a freakin’ break.  Sure, hybrids are quiet, but this is just stupid. 

Perhaps the most common hybrid myth is that they don’t live up to their EPA reported gas mileage.  This one isn’t exactly a myth; it’s just disingenuous to imply that it’s a phenomenon unique to hybrids.  As most people know, most cars don’t live up to these estimates!  The EPA tests are done under ideal conditions (i.e., low speeds, no A/C, etc.) and rarely reflect what people actually achieve in regular driving conditions.  These ratings are for comparison purposes – so you can get an apples-to-apples comparison of two different cars.  Depending on how you drive your car, you may do better or worse.  According to an article about hybrid fuel economy on About.com, “There are owners that meet or beat the EPA’s estimates on a regular basis, while others are below the estimates.”  ‘Nuff said.

Another popular myth about hybrids is that they are actually more expensive to own than regular cars.  While this is a fair topic, I think the people who have examined it haven’t weighed all the variables properly. 

First, there’s the sticker price.  Yes, hybrids are generally priced higher than the same car as a non-hybrid model.  However, the gas savings that a hybrid owner will realize over the life of the vehicle may very well offset that price difference.  But what is perhaps even more important is that this myth is actually bolstered by another myth: many people are under the impression that you can’t negotiate the price on a hybrid because they are in such high demand.  We’ve all heard stories about people paying above sticker price for hybrids, right?  That’s stupid.  From experience, I can tell you that this isn’t true.  I negotiated a great deal on my hybrid.  So that cost differential doesn’t have to be as big of a gap as you might think.

Another component of the total cost of ownership (TCO) myth is that hybrid batteries need to be replaced frequently, costing the driver a significant amount in maintenance fees.  This isn’t true.  As a recent BusinessWeek article points out:

The standard warranty on hybrid batteries and other components is between 80,000 and 100,000 miles, depending on the manufacturer and your location. But that doesn’t mean the batteries will die out at 100,000 miles. The Energy Dept. stopped its tests of hybrid batteries – when the capacity remained almost like new – after 160,000 miles. A taxi driver in Vancouver drove his Toyota Prius over 200,000 miles in 25 months, and the batteries remained strong.

As for the cost of a replacement battery, the article also points out that there is “little to no information about the cost for replacing a hybrid battery, because it hasn’t been a requirement with today’s models.”

Another component of the price equation that many detractors overlook is the significant tax incentives that help offset the cost of buying a hybrid.  My 2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid (4×4) will likely net me a $2,200 tax credit come next April. 

The last thing I’ll say about price is that, for many people, buying a hybrid isn’t just about saving money on gas.  Many people, like myself, buy hybrids for other reasons.  Perhaps the most important reasons are that hybrids are better for the environment and they reduce our dependence on foreign oil.  Those are things that many people are happy to invest in. 

The final stupid hybrid myth I’d like to dispel is that somehow hybrids pose a threat to first responders in the event of an accident.  “Oh no!  All them liberals and their ‘lectrified vehicles are gonna kill the righteous firemen and EMTs!”  This, like the other myths, is stupid.  First responders are trained to handle many dangerous situations, including those posed by a hybrid electrical system.  The following is from a Toyota press release:

In the Prius, there are numerous safeguards to help ensure safe operation for drivers and protection of emergency response professionals in the event of an accident. High-voltage cables are located away from areas that workers might access, are painted orange, are shrouded in metal and have specific automatic disablement mechanisms to ensure the lines would have no voltage in them if an accident occurs.

Additionally, beginning with the first-generation Prius, Toyota has developed manuals and assisted in training exercises to ensure correct information is disseminated. These manuals are available on-line to all emergency response personnel. Most importantly, Prius hybrids have been on U.S. roads for five years and Toyota is not aware of any personal injury in the U.S. related to hybrid or EV electrical systems.

So, who are the people talking all this trash, and why are they so full of shit?

The most obvious naysayers are the manufacturers of gasoline-only vehicles.  I strongly believe that these major corporations are behind most of the FUD about hybrids that gets repeated in the media.  They stand to lose money when people buy hybrids, and stand to make money from people who do not buy them.  Their motivations are pretty clear.

The next group that likes to trash hybrids are what I call the “smug contrarians.”  These people don’t have anything to gain financially by knocking hybrids.  Their motivation is different.  You see, there are some people who take great personal satisfaction in pointing out what they perceive as the ironic consequences of someone else’s “naive” actions.  For example, these people just love to tell you things like this:

“You know, lots of people think that starving yourself is the way to lose weight.  But that will actually cause your metabolism to slow down and you’ll burn even less calories!”

“Most people think that you should whisper when you have laryngitis, but that actually stresses your vocal cords more and makes it worse!”

The smug contrarian loves to illustrate how smart they are by showing you that they don’t believe any of the common misconceptions that “most people” believe.  Chances are you know one of these people, and, unless they happen to own a hybrid, you’ll
probably hear them use this approach to explain why hybrids are for suckers.  They are particularly fond of the TCO argument:

“Most people think you’ll save money by buying a hybrid, but if you actually calculate the costs of owning one, it’s MORE expensive.”

As I pointed out earlier, there are a number of factors to this calculation, and it’s not clear that the TCO is actually higher for a hybrid.  But the smug contrarian doesn’t care if it’s true – they want it to be true.  They’re inclined to believe anything that helps reinforce their status as the knowledgeable loner among their foolish peers.

The media have also been an accomplice in this disinformation campaign.  The media like to latch on to perceived irony, much like the smug contrarians, though with different intent.  I don’t think it’s malicious; rather, I think they’re simply looking for a scoop – something that their audience doesn’t already know and won’t expect.  From that perspective, taking a position that’s contrary to the conventional wisdom is simply a gimmick to grab people’s attention. 

I’ve yet to come across any argument against buying a hybrid that wasn’t easily debunked or of dubious origin or both.  As hybrids continue to capture more market share, the proponents of these arguments will have an increasingly hard time spreading their stories.  It will be particularly interesting to see the “flip-flop” of the big auto manufacturers when they go from trashing hybrids to trying to sell them. 

You could even argue that this flip-flopping has already started to happen.  In 2004, Robert Lutz, GM’s Vice Chairman of Product Development came out very strongly saying that building hybrids didn’t make economic sense.  But next year, they plan to introduce the Chevy Tahoe as a hybrid.  To be fair, Lutz was specifically saying that compact hybrid cars didn’t make sense, and that SUVs were a better option.  So, it’s not a complete contradiction.  However, he justified this statement by citing the price of gasoline – then $1.50/gal on the average – as the reason it didn’t make sense.  The current price is around $2.36/gal.  Considering that the national average was over $3.00 just a few short months ago and hasn’t been below $2.00 for over a year, I think it’s safe to say some new calculations are in order.  Especially if Dubya makes good on his thinly-veiled threats to invade Iran, a move than many economists believe would drive the price of oil to a staggering $100/barrel. 

That’s all for now, folks.  I’ll be sure to let you know if I hear any new hybrid myths.  If you know of any other FUD that I might have missed, please feel free to add a comment below.

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JoseMonkey Goes Hybrid

entry20060122-2 Over a year ago, back in December of 2004, I explained how I was considering buying the Toyota Highlander Hybrid.  Well, I finally went and did it yesterday.  So far, I’m very pleased with the car. 

I don’t really have a lot to say about the car itself that hasn’t been said elsewhere, but I wanted to relay a story about how I bought the car.

Here’s a secret: I’ve never had to haggle for a car before.  I’ve owned exactly two cars prior to this one.  The first was a 1989 VW Fox that my parents were nice enough to give me as a hand-me-down on my 17th birthday.  The second was another VW, a Passat this time, that I purchased through my father, who works for Audi.  Because of the nature of the employee-discounted sale, there wasn’t any negotiating to be done.  So, when it came time to buy this car, I found myself squarely in noob territory.

Having said that, I’m not a bad negotiator at all.  A former employer once sent me to a Karrass negotiating seminar where I learned some invaluable techniques and picked up a lot of pointers.  I’ve haggled for plenty of things since then — furniture, appliances, mortgage rates, etc. — but I’d never negotiated for a car.  Every good negotiator knows, buying a car is the Super Bowl of negotiating.

Anyway, I did some research to try to figure out what I needed to know going into the dealer.  I came across a wonderfully helpful site called CarBuyingTips.com, which was put together by a very friendly and knowledgeable guy named Jeff Ostroff.  Jeff’s advice was awesome, and I’d highly recommend that you check it out if you’re in the market for a car.

Armed with the info I needed, I headed to my local dealer, Sansone Auto Mall in Avenel, and began a pricing discussion.  When I made my offer, the sales manager immediately went into super-aggressive mode.  He told me that my offer was outrageous and that he’d lose money on the car if he sold it for that price.  Furthermore, they told me that I could go to “any dealer in the state,” and I’d never be able to buy the car for the price I was offering.  The manager then turned his back and walked away from me.  So, I walked.

The next day, I went to another Toyota dealer.  After some lengthy negotiations, I bought the car for a mere $200 more than my original offer. 

Later that day, a representative from the first dealer called me to talk to me about the offer I had made on the Highlander, not knowing I had already purchased the car elsewhere.  All of the sudden, they were willing to talk about the price and the person on the phone said she would “bring this to the manager’s attention.”  I couldn’t help but gloat.  I told her that her manager missed his chance to sell me a car.  However, I told her that she could “inform him that he was absolutely correct; I wasn’t able to buy that car for the price I offered.  I had to pay $200 more.” 

I then did a very silly victory dance.

The last thing I’d like to say is that I’d recommend buying a car from Frank Rodriguez at Toyotaland in Springfield, NJ.  He was very pleasant, as were the sales managers.  They weren’t pushovers, but they weren’t rude and aggressive, either.

Oh, BTW, if you’re interested in buying my 1999 VW Passat GLX, check it out on AutoTrader.com.

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Move Over Fahrvergnugen

I’ve been a Volkswagen guy for a long time.  My dad has worked for VW/Audi for pretty much my whole life.  My brother works for VW, too.  I’ve only owned two cars in my life, and both were VWs.  Fahrvergnugen isn’t just a slogan in my family; it’s a tradition.

I’ve always liked the VW brand.  There’s something about VWs.  Frankly, there’s something about people that drive them.  It’s hard to explain.  But it’s more than just a car.  When you drive your VW, you’re more than just a driver.  Everyone I’ve ever known who has owned a VW has simply loved to drive it.  Invariably, I tend to get along well with other VW drivers that I meet.  Fahrvergnugen, man.

Sadly, my VW Passat is starting to rack up quite a few miles.  For a long time, I figured I’d buy another VW — maybe even another Passat — as my next car.

Enter conflict.

As I started to seriously think about what my next car ought to be, I came to the following conclusions.

  • I need a bigger car. Let’s face it: I need a minivan, SUV, or a wagon.  I’ve got two dogs that I take with me everywhere I go, and babies aren’t so far off that I can pretend a sedan will cut it for much longer.
  • I really want something that gets above average gas mileage. It’s a matter of principle for me.  It doesn’t take a prophet to see the impending oil crisis, and I’d like to stay ahead of the curve.  So, I’m thinking about a hybrid or maybe a diesel.  (Except diesels, even the clean ones, are polluters.)

These two options are, sadly, damn near incompatible.  A fuel-efficient SUV?  It’s practically an oxymoron.

So, with a hopeful heart, I went to check out what VW had to offer.  (Where else?)  My options were limited: the Diesel Touareg or the Diesel Passat Wagon.  I’m not really crazy about the diesels, either.

After relaying my dilemma to a friend, he began to suggest a number of other cars that — horrors! — weren’t even VWs!  I began explaining to my friend how I couldn’t possibly buy those cars.  He asked why.  Well . . . because I’m a VW guy!  Yeah, but why?  I have to admit that he stumped me there.

Sure, I love my VW.  It’s great to drive.  But honestly, it’s been a little bit of a hassle, and also pricey to maintain.  And it’s not just me; according to Consumer Reports VW has been “losing ground” in terms of reliability.  Consumer Reports turned out to be a treasure trove of facts I’d never even thought about.  For instance, they say that VWs, Audis, and other European cars, while better than domestic cars, have been shown to be less reliable than Asian cars.  Furthermore, they said of Asian cars:

As they age, Asian vehicles generally have fewer problems than U.S. or European vehicles. The 2001 Honda CR-V, for instance, with 12 problems per 100 vehicles, was more trouble-free than many 2003 models. 

Well, as it turns out, this is news to no one except me, and possibly my dad.  If you look at the reliability rating for Hondas and Toyotas in Consumer Reports, the assessment is staggering.  They’re as close as it gets to trouble-free.

So, in light of this new information, I arrived at a third and very important conclusion:

  • I need to consider cars other than VWs and Audis. Specifically, I should consider Japanese cars that have excellent reliability ratings, like Toyotas and Hondas.

That one was earth-shattering for me.  It’s part of who I am that I drive a VW!  So what if they’re less reliable than Toyotas or Hondas — it’s the Fahrvergnugen, baby!

Enter reality.

If you take my three conclusions all together, there are still remarkably few options.  One notable exception is the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, due out in 2005.

The regular gas-powered Highlander has gotten terrific reviews.  Consumer Reports recommends it.  The hybrid engine is based on the engine used in the Prius, which also has gotten great reviews.  It’s a full size, 7-seater SUV and it gets gas mileage like a sedan — roughly equivalent to my Passat or better.

Then, somewhere in the back of my brain, a voice says, “But it’s not a Volkswagen!”

Yes, I reply.  But maybe that’s . . . ok?

I have to admit that I would really like to own a hybrid vehicle.  With so few hybrid SUVs available, the Highlander becomes an easy choice.  I just need to get over my life-long bias towards buying German cars.

So, to sum up, I guess what I’m saying is: Dad, is it okay if I buy a Toyota?  I promise I won’t like driving it as much as my Passat.  But it might be exactly what I’m looking for right now.

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