“If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What Can Make People Buy A “Green” Car

Talk about being committed to the environment and the community, people all over the world are making sure that people are enticed to go “green” starting this year. Lawmakers are introducing legislation about it. Employers are asking their employees to follow their example and buy hybrid cars. Governments are offering incentives for people who are seeking “greener pastures” (and I’m not just goin’ for the metaphor!). Researchers are doing write-ups about the advantages of these eco-friendly cars. If you take time out of your busy day to read this post, in just a few minutes you may be tempted to go to the dealership to get one of these cars.

In Adelaide, the fifth most populous city in Australia, a proposal was put forth by Councilor Michael Henningsen to give drivers of hybrids a lower parking rate. In an interview, he defended his proposal by saying that:
"Because these cars are a bit more expensive and I think that, if you're taking the long-term view that you want to make a positive diminution in the greenhouse gases, that you should get some sort of acknowledgment and some kudos and some relief for doing that."
In the US, owner of Calibration Consultants in Sorrento Valley, CJ Langler exchanged his V8 engine truck for two hybrid vehicles, one for himself and another for his wife. And because of the savings that he immediately got he started enticing his employees to go green by offering them incentives. In an interview, he said:
"We decided to give a $2,000 employee bonus to each one that decides to turn in their big V-8," and that, "We have single mothers, we have military dependents that have people overseas right now, it's about food on the table for them.” Finally, he revealed that, "I would challenge some of the big guys -- locally and nationally -- to come up with similar programs and do the same.”
And he is right to do so. Companies should in a way feel responsible for what their employees drive. Why? It’s because by putting incentives they can influence their choices. But it does not mean they need to put their foot down. The choice will still be up to the employees. But it is a perfect example of how committed certain people are, and that if you are committed enough you can make other people make the same right choice.

But incentives and legislation are not the most effective way of enticing people to turn in their car for a hybrid. Studies show that if presented with a whole lot of advantages, people are willing to go green. Kay Murchie states that fact well by saying that “”Motorists would go green if the price was right” in an article in the Finance Markets. Here is an excerpt from her write-up:
Research by Tescocompare.com, the car insurance comparison site, has established that 2 million motorists claim to be driving an environmentally friendly car.

Low-emission vehicles are most popular in Wales and the South West, where 12% have chosen a car which is environmentally friendly compared to 4% in London.

However, Tescocompare.com discovered that more than 21 million are driven by financial incentives and would consider converting to a ‘green’ or low-emission car if the price was more competitive and the Government offered incentives for doing so.

If road tax was reduced, 62% would be persuaded to go green while 25% could be convinced if there was a steep rise in fuel prices. 36% would consider going green if the incentive was cheaper parking fees.

So there you go. Incentives. Legislation. Savings. Those three will make or break the popularity of green cars among car owners.

References: ABC News ; NBC San Diego; Finance Markets

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hybrids: What Are They Exactly?

Last night a friend and I were watchin’ this documentary about “green” cars, prior to that we were at the post office to pick up the catalytic converter that he ordered. And so began our discussion about “green” cars and “cats”. He (being a fan of old school cars) does not have any idea what these supposedly eco-friendly cars are. He asked me if these cars have catalytic converters. Well, I am not an expert on “green” cars ‘coz I haven’t had the chance to check one out yet but that much I know. I said hybrids do. And so he asked again, “what are hybrids?” I told him that these are still petrol-powered vehicles, however the least amount of petrol is used because the car battery assists the engine to make the car run. So basically, both petrol and electricity are making the car move, unlike before when petrol was the sole generator of power. That is why it is called a hybrid in the first place. So it got me thinking, all over the US people are questioning the feasibility of these cars in the years to come. A lot are commenting that they are here to stay because they are far more environment-friendly than most cars in production today. But, surprisingly, not that many people know about “green” cars and the entire working/s behind it, hence this blog post.

I was searching online for information about hybrids, but all I could find where data that were too technical for most people. There was this Frequently Asked Questions thing online about the Honda Civic Hybrid and I decided it would be a great example. The Honda Civic is one of the most lauded hybrids to ever come out this year, and here are a few information about the car.

What is a hybrid vehicle?
A hybrid car combines a petrol-powered engine with an electric motor to provide substantially better fuel economy with substantially lower emissions. Specifically, the Civic Hybrid utilizes Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology, which uses a 1.3-liter VTEC engine for primary power, with an ultra-thin electric motor providing additional power and torque.

Do I need to plug the Civic Hybrid in?
Never. The Civic Hybrid battery pack is recharged automatically when decelerating through regenerative braking, as well as when cruising. The driver never needs to worry about recharging the battery; the Civic Hybrid does this by itself in the usual course of driving.

What Petrol do I use in the Civic Hybrid?
The Civic Hybrid runs on the cheaper 91 octane unleaded.

What fuel economy can I expect from the Civic Hybrid?
The Civic Hybrid should achieve an average of approximately 18km/ltr on highway driving and 15km/ltr around town, but like any car it depends how you drive it. Better figures than this can be achieved, e.g. In the 2002 EnergyWise Rally the Civic Hybrid achieved an average fuel economy of 21.46km/ltr (4.66 litres per 100kms or 60.6 mpg).

How does the Civic Hybrid perform and handle compared to conventional vehicles?
The Civic Hybrid feels and drives like a normal automatic non-hybrid Civic with the exception that when stopped, the petrol engine cuts out automatically.

Can the Civic Hybrid run on electricity when it runs out of petrol?
No, the Civic Hybrid always drives using the petrol engine with the electric motor only assisting. Like any other car, drivers should be sure to keep petrol in the tank of their Civic Hybrid at all times.

How long does the battery last in the Civic Hybrid?
To quote from the Honda website: "The battery pack is designed to last 10 years under normal driving conditions."

If you want to read the entire write-up, you can just click here.

Source: The Clean Green Car Company

Saturday, April 26, 2008

High Gas Mileage = A Sure Sale?

I wrote something about the Hummer being a “green” car in my previous post. I did so not only because I am a big Hummer fan, but because I am quite relieved that GM is taking steps to make this behemoth more environment-friendly. Yes! There is no way it can be as fuel-efficient as the super eco-friendly hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic and the Ford Escape. But I found out recently that the Hummer in a way is more eco-friendly because of how it is manufactured. It may be a gas-guzzler, but at least in its production there are no damages made like the increase of acid rain, water poisoning and the likes. This should be a matter of concern for auto-makers because fuel-efficiency is not the only way to battle pollution. By making vehicles in a way that there is no damage done to the environment and making them fuel-efficient at the same time, auto-makers can make this world a better place to live in.

Sadly though, agencies like the EPA focus more on how many miles a car can travel on a gallon, than on how it is made. But for some people it works. Speaking for myself, the mpg rating of a vehicle can also be an important tool in determining which vehicle to buy. If we don’t have information about how a certain car was built, then at least we can make a contribution to the environment by getting a fuel-efficient car. That much we can do. I am not being a hypocrite here. It’s just that we have no choice but to do so. And with the soaring prices of fuel, we suddenly find ourselves in between a rock and a hard place. It is important that we know how a certain vehicle performed in a fuel-efficiency test. This is where the EPA shines through. I have found a list of vehicles that offer the best gas mileage by class. There are a couple surprises here and there, but you know which ones to expect on the list. Here it is:

(Class Leaders / City MPG / Highway MPG)

Compact Cars (Range: 11-37; Avg.: 21/28)
Toyota Yaris 29 35
Honda Fit 27 34

Midsize Cars (Range: 9-33; Avg.: 18/26)
Hyundai Elantra 25 33
Pontiac Vibe 25 31
Toyota Matrix 25 31

Full-Size Cars (Range: 10-31; Avg.: 15/23)
Hyundai Sonata 21 30
Toyota Avalon 19 28

Luxury Cars (Range: 9-32; Avg.: 15/23)
Mercedes-Benz E-Class (diesel) 23 32
Audi A4* 21 30

Sports Cars (Range: 9-31; Avg.: 16/23)
Audi TT* 22 29
Volkswagen GTI* 22 29

SUVs (Range: 12-28; Avg.: 15/21)
Jeep Compass (2WD) 23 27
Jeep Patriot (2WD) 23 27

Pickup Trucks (Range: 12-26; Avg.: 15/20)
Toyota Tacoma (2WD) 19 25
Ford Ranger (2WD) 19 24
Mazda B2300 (2WD) 19 24

Minivans (Range: 15-28; Avg.: 17/24)
Mazda Mazda5 21 27
Kia Rondo 19 26

Source: EPA's 2008 Fuel Economy Guide

I am longing for the day that a Hummer will be on that list. I’m kinda getting my hopes up because of the recent introduction of the Hummer H3T. It hasn’t yet come close to being on the abovementioned list, but at least you can see a little improvement. And if plans push through, GM may be able to increase the gas mileage of Hummers. All we can do is to wait for a redesign (and maybe a compact version?) But maybe that is already asking too much. We just have to be thankful that steps are taken into making this impressive vehicle more available to the public by making them more eco-friendly than their older counterparts.

Friday, April 25, 2008

“Green” Hummers

Hummers are notorious for being gas-guzzlers. It can travel a measly 15-16 miles on one gallon of gas. That is why it is labeled as one of the most inefficient vehicles when it comes to gas mileage. People are praising green cars for addressing issues related to the environment, and Hummers are farthest in the minds of people when it comes to this matter. But little do people know that Hummers, to a certain degree, can be considered green. Well, not technically speaking, of course.

Green cars are popular for being very fuel-efficient. That is what people notice firsthand. But little do they know the resources used in the production of this vehicles. Roger Marolt of the Aspen Times wrote:
A report by the organization Target of Opportunity notes that AM General has decided not employ the use of nickel batteries in their vehicles, which are found extensively in the Prius, and are, in fact, at the nucleus of Prius’ hybrid power plant. The nickel for these Prius batteries is mined and smelted in Sudbury, Ontario, causing a nightmare of environmental damage.

According to David Martin, Canadian Greenpeace energy-coordinator, “The acid rain around Sudbury was so bad it destroyed all the plants and the soil slid off the hillside.”

Hummers, on the other hand, may not be as fuel-efficient as other vehicles, but GM’s commitment to making its production as environmentally-safe as possible is definitely laudable. Several technologies and safeguards are used so that in the production of every Hummer, the damage done by the production of eco-friendly cars is not replicated. That’s what makes Hummers green. And GM finally has plans of making the Hummer as fuel-efficient as any car that you see on the streets. That would set the GM marquee a step above the rest.

Hummer H3: Saudi Auto’s Editor’s Choice

The Hummer H3 and the Toyota FJ Cruiser were test-driven at a course built for four-wheel drive vehicles at the Bahrain International Circuit. These two vehicles were in a head-to-head match-up for the coveted Saudi Auto’s Editor’s Choice Award, an award given by the premiere automotive magazine in the region. In what can only be called a one-sided competition, the Hummer H3 edged out the Toyota FJ Cruiser and went on to win the award.

Bakur Azher, publisher and editor-in-chief of the said magazine said in an interview:

We felt that the Hummer H3 was particularly deserving of the Saudi Auto Editor's Choice award for a number of reasons. It possesses a greater ability to cross rough terrain than its competitor, helped by its higher ground clearance and better approach and departure angles; it looks great, inside and outside; and it offers much equipment that is not available in its competitor.

Surprisingly, fuel-efficiency was one of the determining factors why the H3 bagged the award. During recent testing, the Hummer H3’s official fuel economy rating ranged from 15-16 mpg. That is already quite impressive for such a bulky and heavy vehicle. And there are rumors that GM is planning on redesigning the Hummer line-up further in order to take into consideration the rising cost of fuel. If that goes well, then we might see hundreds more of this superb vehicles on the street.

The 2008 Hummer H2

GM’s Hummer keeps getting better and better. The Hummer H2 reportedly received not only a facelift but also an upgrade. Here is what you can expect from the H2:
  • 6.2 L, V-8 engine capable of producing 388 bhp (393 according to different sources) and 423 lb-ft of torque
  • 4WD w/ six-speed automatic transmission (with overdrive)
  • New seats (including optional third-row seats for two passengers)
  • New interior trims
  • Rear-seat overhead DVD system
  • New Bose audio system
  • Redesigned front end (larger grille openings / lower bumpers painted in silver rather than black)
  • Available in three trims (the Base, Luxury and the Adventure)
  • Quicker steering response
  • Quieter
  • A double-cab, pick-up version, the Hummer H2 SUT

The standard features that were retained are the following:
  • Heating, ventilation and a/c system for the rear compartment
  • Off-road ability
  • 17 in wheels
  • Independent front suspension and a five-link rear suspension
  • Extensive underbody protection for the engine and transmission
  • Self-leveling rear air spring suspension system (optional for extreme off-road and towing jobs)
Its price ranges from $56,690 to $56,735. There are also minor changes that are not that worth mentioning. All in all, it is just as good as the old one, although a little different.

Source: Paul Hudson for the Telegraph.co.uk

Thursday, April 24, 2008

How to Prevent Your Car from Getting Stolen

You already know where thieves operate. You know what kinds of stuff they do so they can steal your car. Now, you need to know what you should do so you can prevent those from happening. I’ve cited a few examples in my previous post, but just to be safe, I again did a little research and found the following:

Caroline Pardilla of Edmunds.com wrote:
  1. Since it seems like everything from a loud Harley to a rumbling garbage truck can set off a car alarm, people have been conditioned to tune them out. Instead of a motion-sensitive car alarm, use one that has a pager that will notify you as soon as your alarm is activated.
  2. Don't tempt car thieves. Keep valuables out of plain sight. Take them with you or store them in the trunk. Also, if you have a stereo with a removable face plate, take it with you instead of tucking it away in the glovebox.
  3. Instead of locking just your steering wheel, "lock" your car's ability to go by using a starter disable switch and putting it in a place where only you can get to it.
  4. Instead of going to a big retail chain store, have your car alarm installed by a professional car alarm installer, preferably a reasonably shady one. Unlike retail chain employees, these experts know what it takes to make your car elusive to crooks.
  5. Never display stickers that advertise what sort of car alarm you have, or audio system for that matter. Consider using a hood lock cable so the thief can't get to your battery or car alarm mechanism.
  6. Never leave your keys in the ignition even for a quick errand. Car theft is a crime of opportunity, so don't make it easy for them to grab yours.
  7. Keep your registration and insurance information with you and never leave personal information in your car.
  8. Whenever possible, park in lots and garages that have security and/or parking lot attendants. If not, don't park in the farthest corner of the lot but rather near the entrance of these facilities to insure the most foot traffic (and the most potential witnesses). Also, opt for paying the extra couple of dollars for the monitored parking lot instead of using the free parking on the less-trafficked side streets.
  9. Don't leave spare keys in your car or in a magnetic box attached to the underside of your car. Thieves know where all the "hiding places" are.
  10. Instead of VIN etching the major parts of your vehicle, which doesn't turn most thieves off, drop your business card into the doors through the window slots to identify your car as yours.
If you have read that thoroughly then you know you are late for a little shopping. A car alarm pager should head your list followed by a starter disable switch and a hood lock cable conversion kit. Among the three, I only have the first. I suggest you avail of one. I would suggest getting a Kingtronic car alarm pager (KRF-430C), or a Crimestopper. They do not come cheap because usually they have built-in LCD displays that show whatever the security video inside the car is getting. If you can’t get in time to your car to ward off the thief, that’s what the starter disable switch is for. If he can’t get the hood to open, he won’t know that the starter is disabled. And it takes a long time to get it up and running.

The abovementioned tips are actually very good. And some of ‘em are original. You would do well to follow them if you don’t want your car to get stolen.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Car Thieves’ Modus Operandi

It is said that the best offense is a good defense. That is not only applicable in sports. You can also make use of this principle in preventing your car from getting stolen. By knowing how car thieves operate, you would know how to guard your car against them. I said in my previous blog that if it was me, and I was parking in a shady neighborhood I will not be averse to putting a wheel boot on my car. It is not a foolproof technique because given enough time, anyone can figure out how to disengage it, but it is a start.

Another thing that you can do is to park the vehicle where you can see it, or where others can. It is also sensible to park in places where there is ample security like in one of those commercial parking lots. If it were me, I wouldn’t mind paying for the time I’m gonna spend there. At least car thieves wouldn’t be able to duplicate my parking ticket. Another tip is to make sure that all your alarm systems are working. You can try engaging it and the bumping into parts like the bumper, wheels, doors, mirrors, window and hood and see if the alarm picks up. Be sure to keep your keys in hand so you can stop the alarm any time. You would not want angry neighbors to bark at you for being so noisy. Those six are usually the areas that thieves first inspect, and if just one of those do not sound off that is a sure indication that your alarm system or a part of it (that is, if you have one) is not working.

Well, I’ve run out of tips, so lemme’ give you a few which have been dug up online. I got this one from edmunds.com, a website that has been very helpful in the past when I bought one of my cars. In an article entitled, “Top 10 Ways to Steal a Car (and how to defend against them)” by Caroline Pardilla, the author presented the most common modus operandi of car thieves. The article featured tips on how to avoid being a victim, but I’ll present that in a different post so as to be a bit organized.

10 Ways to Steal a Car
  1. Bump against the car to check for a car alarm
  2. Break the window or jimmy the lock to gain entry into a locked car.
  3. Cut the steering wheel itself if there's a steering wheel lock.
  4. Look for exposed wiring that can be cut or for the central unit of the car alarm to deactivate it.
  5. Look for car alarm decals to figure out which method to use to eliminate the alarm.
  6. Jump into an unattended running car while the owner is at the ATM, dropping off videos, etc.
  7. Look for the car's title, registration or anything with a home address on it.
  8. Stake out sporting events, movie theaters and shopping center parking lots for the car of your choice since they offer the largest variety of cars in one area.
  9. Find the second set of keys the owner "hid" in the car.
  10. Copy specific vehicle information and take it to the manufacturer to get a replacement key made.
If ever you see someone doing any of those to your car, or any other car for that matter, you should immediately notify the police. If good judgment tells you that the police won’t make it in time and that the car will just end up getting stolen, then you can try and frighten the thief away. Don’t confront him. Just shout at him. Also get a good look at the face. That person will eventually get caught once you give the police the description. Once you know what to look out for, you will know what to do.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Places Where Your Car Is Likely to Get Stolen

If you are from Modesto, San Diego or San Francisco, you better think twice about parking your car where no one can keep tabs on it. Statistics show that these cities are where car thieves are most active. No car is safe, really. If you leave it somewhere long enough, someone is bound to take it. However, recent data points out that in Western states, people’s cars get stolen all the time. Maybe there are more car thieves there, or there is the same amount of thieves but they are just better at their trade. Nevertheless, I’d never take my chances when I’m there. It’s either I’ll put a wheel boot on my car or I’ll park it near a police station. I found this interesting tidbit in an article in The Auto Channel, and I deemed it prudent to post this information here so you can be warned.
Washington DC April 22, 2008; The AIADA newsletter reported that according to a report issued by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), Modesto, Calif. tops the charts for the highest rate of auto theft per capita in 2007.

Preliminary FBI crime data signals that nationally vehicle thefts dropped 7.4 percent in 2007 - marking the fourth consecutive year of declining vehicle thefts. Western states continue to take the top spots when it comes to auto theft rates, according to CNN.

In 2007, four out of the top 10 metro areas with the highest vehicle theft rates were in California. The final number of thefts for 2007 has not been released yet, but in 2006 Californians lost 242,693 cars. Texans, which came in a distant second for stolen cars, lost 95,429 cars.

Most of the cities that are seeing high theft rates are near the nation's border with Mexico, a fact that can make it tricky for authorities to recover the vehicles. "Once it is Mexico or Canada, then you are dealing with another country and you can't go in there and route around," said Frank Scafidi, spokesman for NICB.

Top 10 metro areas by per capita auto theft rate for 2007

1. Modesto, Calif.
2. Las Vegas/Paradise, Nev.
3. San Diego/Carlsbad/San Marcos, Calif.
4. Stockton, Calif.
5. San Francisco/Oakland/Fremont, Calif.
6. Laredo, Texas
7. Albuquerque, N.M.
8. Phoenix/Mesa/Scottsdale, Ariz.
9. Yakima, Wash.
10. Tucson, Ariz.

NCIB April 22, 2008
I would like to comment that although your city’s name is not on the list, it does not mean that you are safe against car thieves. Your car may not be as flashy or expensive as others, but after chop shops are done with it they can sell individual parts for double or triple the price. In fact a whole car, when stripped, will cost more than its msrp when everything is sold. And that is not only speculation. That is fact. It is for this reason why most thieves will steal whatever they can get their hands on. And just because you have an old model car does not mean you are safe against people who prefer new ones. Old model cars are easier to steal simply because it has obsolete alarm systems, and its locks are easy to pick. Give someone 30 seconds with it, and they’ll be off before you notice it.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t drive your car any longer because it’ll just get stolen. There are precautions that you can take so that scenario can be avoided. Maybe in my next post I’ll write something about that. As for now, be contented with parking your car in secure locations. And if possible, park it where you and other people can see it.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sales Slump: A Bump in the Road or a Blockade?

The last quarter of the previous year and the first quarter of this year are both bad periods for the auto industry. The global oil crisis has affected not only the consumers but the automakers themselves. It is a simple equation, really. A new couple wants to buy a new car. The new car is relatively inexpensive, but the cost of maintaining it exceeds the budget because of the rising cost of fuel. So the new couple decides to put off buying a new car because in more ways than one, commuting is more economical. What took $1,000 a few years back now requires $2,000 annually to maintain. Gas allowances have doubled over the past few years, and this is gradually taking its toll in the auto industry. And this is not only felt in the US, but in other countries as well.

Norman de Bono of the London Free Press wrote:

London lost $341 million in payroll last year from auto sector job losses alone, according to a Canadian Auto Workers analysis of the London and area economy.

The CAW has released a detailed analysis of the impact the automotive industry has had on the London and area economy, and while it has been hit hard by a downturn, it remains a critical industry, Bill Murnighan, a researcher for the CAW, said yesterday.

"This is not just about job losses, but about how important automotive is to this economy," said Murnighan. "We wanted to lay out the facts and it is stunning to see how critical it is. We are trying to make people understand that."

The sector has lost more than 5,000 jobs over the last five years, a third of auto jobs that existed in the city and region a few years ago.

Similarly, Eric Beauchesne of the Montreal Gazette wrote:

The Canadian auto industry, including the parts sector that accounts for the lion's share of its jobs, faces tough times, a report released yesterday suggests. But it expressed confidence some firms will survive and even thrive.

But it's more than a case of being outpaced by the booming energy sector, as exports of autos and parts have been falling in absolute terms, he added. Exports have fallen nearly 20 per cent this decade.

"And the outlook for 2008 is for more of the same," Poloz (Export Development Canada's chief economist) warned.

This trend extends as far as several other countries in Europe. But over-all, Europe is having a slump. In The Earth Times it was cited that:

New European passenger car registrations slumped by 9.5 per cent in March, data released Tuesday showed, as rising oil prices and growing economic uncertainty kept consumers away from car showrooms. The March fall resulted in car registrations dropping by 1.7 per cent during the first three months of the year compared with the same period in 2007, the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA) said releasing the figures.

Last month's decline dragged down sales for the major car manufacturers in Europe with the German-based Volkswagen group reporting a 12.5-per-cent fall and its Japanese rival, Toyota posting a 16.5-per-cent drop during March.

The effect in these countries mirrors the 15-year low slump in the US brought about mainly by the oil and the credit crisis. Surprisingly, automakers are able to hold their own because of the increase of sales in Asia, particularly in India and China. But if this trend continues, the auto industry will suffer a tremendous blow, one of which is likely to cause several problems for months, and even years to come. They should try to weather it out, and hope for a favorable change during the coming months.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Look at the Upcoming ’08 Beijing Int’l Auto Exhibition

Beijing is really going all out this year. Not only will they be hosting the Olympics, the metropolis will also be the stage for one of the biggest auto-shows this year – the 2008 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition. It is set for next week, between April 20 and 28. The auto-show is expected to be grand, and a large number of foreign automakers have already confirmed that they will not miss the exhibition for the world. Their presence is not only expected because China is said to be in the running for the spot as the “#1 Automotive Market” in the world, but because they are aiming to offset the decline of sales during the first quarter of this year.

An article in CHINAdaily.com cites:

Foreign auto makers will display a large number of new models at the Beijing auto show next week, hoping the booming market in China will offset sales slumps elsewhere in the world.

Big global names saw their sales growth far outpace the industry average in China, where passenger car sales rose 20 percent to 1.85 million in the first quarter.

But new vehicle sales in the United States hit a 15-year low as consumers held back due to concerns about soaring oil prices and the spreading credit crisis.

The biennial Beijing auto show has attracted all the world's major auto makers - including General Motors, BMW, Toyota and Honda - and none of the big names will be absent, the organizers said.

The Exhibition is expected to be at par with the recent ’08 NAIAS in scale, but it is already fashioning out to be a huge success. Since the second quarter has just begun, several automakers are planning on unveiling several new models that will be coming out this year. Some will exhibit a record number of cars, while others are there for the simple reason that they saw a big rise in car sales in China during the past months and would want to take advantage of the trend. And if this trend continues, it wouldn’t take long before China becomes the world’s largest auto-market. In fact, Kevin Wale, the president of GM in China has made a bold prediction, saying that, “China will be the world's largest auto market before 2020”. It would seem that India is not the only country that’s pretty much interested in foreign markets, as can be seen in the recent acquisition of Tata Motors of British marques, Land Rover and Jaguar.

CHINAdaily.com provides a great overview of what people can expect from the 2008 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition, and here it is:

Ford Motor Co plans to show 55 vehicles in its 5,500-square-meter exhibition space, the largest for a single company in the history of the auto show.

Volkswagen AG will wheel in a record 31 vehicles at the biggest event of the Chinese automotive industry. The largest European auto maker will debut two sedans tailor-made for the Chinese market and showcase the highly anticipated Passat CC sedan and Tiguan sport-utility vehicle for the first time in China.

German luxury car maker Mercedes-Benz, which saw its first-quarter sales soar 40 percent in China, nearly four times the global rise, will show 33 vehicles, including the super luxury Maybach and a particularly clean diesel hybrid model.

That probably is just the tip of the iceberg. And if all goes well, and sales in the People’s Republic are off the charts, expect the biennial auto-show to become an annual thing. This will definitely be the case if an answer to the rising cost of fuel is not found, and if the sales in the US are still in the dumps.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Old News, New Information: Jordan’s Private Car Collection

The scenario was like this: I was fiddling with my keyboard, googling anything that pops out in my head. I so badly wanted to write a new blog post but I could not seem to think of anything to write. I also keep a personal journal online so I wrote something there first. Then, out of curiosity I typed “Michael Jordan car” in a search engine and I came across some pretty fascinating information. It turns out that Michael Jordan has his own car collection, something I’m not aware of even though I am a big Jordan fan. And get this, among his collection; he only has one American-made car. But that was way back in March of 2006. There is no recent news regarding Jordan’s collection so there is a possibility he already added another. Maybe the vehicles in the collection are not noteworthy to receive that much attention or His Airness is just very private about it. In any case, I tried hard to find a list of his car collection, to no avail. Although I did learn that the American car he bought in 2006 is a 2006 Cadillac XLR-V. (You can find the entire story here.)

It was reported that Cadillac GM Jim Taylor had his team bring three XLR-Vs of varying colors to Jordan’s house so that the NBA star can pick one. He chose the red (no surprise there!), and paid in full the amount of $100,000. That more than covers the car, the delivery and the little show they put up for his benefit. The red XLR-V custom side sills also sport Jordan’s signature etched in aluminum. Here is a review of the vehicle taken from a GM press release that I came across upon in Serious Wheels.

At the heart of the XLR-V is the new, 4.4-liter version of the Northstar engine outfitted with a positive displacement intercooled supercharger. The dual overhead cam (DOHC) V-8 engine delivers the highest horsepower rating of any Cadillac engine to date.

Called the Northstar V-8 SC (supercharged), the engine produces 440 horsepower (328 kW) at 6400 rpm and 425 lb.-ft. (576 Nm) torque at 3600 rpm (power and torque figures estimated) – and the engine’s power is underscored by its ability to deliver 90 percent of its peak torque between 2200 and 6000 rpm.

The Northstar V-8 SC generates 120 horsepower (90 kW) and 115 lb.-ft. (156 Nm) of torque more than its naturally aspirated counterpart, while its specific output of 100-horsepower-per-liter makes it one of the world’s highest specific output production V-8 engines.

However, the Northstar V-8 SC used in the XLR-V is more than just power and torque. The DOHC engine includes variable valve timing that enables outstanding top-end performance while maintaining the expected refinement and quality associated with a luxury marque.

The aggressive torque curve enabled by the choice of a supercharged engine gives the XLR-V acceleration capable of placing it firmly in the under-5-second-club for 0-to-60 time – a signature capability of V-Series vehicles.

The refined shift feel is enabled by careful electronic calibration of both the engine and transmission. During shifts, power is instantaneously lowered, then ramped back up carefully to make gear changes virtually unnoticeable.

And that is just the engine. Other impressive stuff about the XLR-V is related to its air induction and exhaust system, 6-speed automatic transmission, performance-tuned chassis system, innovative cooling system and adaptive forward lighting, among others. Even though it is relatively an old model, it still is better than some of the cars that have come out of production this year and last year. Better read the entire review for more information.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Movie Time: Taking a Break from All the “Car-Talk”

A G. I. Joe movie is in production, and it is set to be released in 2009. As soon as I heard about the movie, I quickly searched online. The rumors are true, and I haven’t seen myself as excited about a movie as I am now. I did not grow up watching the G. I. Joe animated series, but I did own a couple of Hasbro toys. I can’t seem to find them now. I would have shared them with my son, and tell him something about G. I. Joe (about how they are an elite group of military men, originally formed to protect oil interests overseas). I don’t know how much of that is true. All I know is they are good role models, and compared to the shows my son is watching now, G. I. Joe will definitely get my thumbs up. I watched Transformers, the movie, with my son; we’re definitely gonna line-up in the movie house during the first week of this movie.

Here is a peek at the cast and crew of the movie. Some of the information is still subject to change because it is still in production (and I do hope they replace the other cast members)

Channing Tatum ... Duke
Dennis Quaid ... General Hawk
Dwayne Johnson ... Hector 'Shipwreck' Delgado (rumored)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt ... Cobra Commander
Brendan Fraser ... Gung Ho (rumored)
Rachel Nichols ... Shana 'Scarlett' O'Hara
Sienna Miller ... The Baroness
Ray Park ... Snake Eyes
Jonathan Pryce ... U.S. President
Christopher Eccleston ... Destro
Arnold Vosloo .. Zartan
Marlon Wayans ... Ripcord
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje... Heavy Duty
Saïd Taghmaoui ... Breaker
Byung-hun Lee ... Storm Shadow
Karolina Kurkova ... Courtney A. Kreiger / Cover girl (rumored)

Directed by:
Stephen Sommers

Writing credits
Stuart Beattie (screenplay)
Skip Woods (screenplay)

Produced by:
Lorenzo di Bonaventura .... producer
Bob Ducsay .... producer
Brian Goldner .... executive producer
JoAnn Perritano .... co-producer
Stephen Sommers .... producer
David Womark .... executive producer

And guess who (or what) is making a special appearance? Hummer!!! Being originally a military vehicle, it comes as no surprise that the Hummer will make an appearance in the movie. Sadly, the concept car Hummer HX won’t be featured in the movie. I read about this particular piece of disappointing information online, but I don’t want to let that bring the movie down. As long as there are Humvees there, I’m ok with it.

I’ve got a couple of issues with the cast, though. Channing Tatum as Duke? No way! He’s supposed to be second in command of the Joe’s, and he’s a first sergeant at that, not a kid. Even a toy Duke looks more manly than Channing Tatum. And I don’t even care if he has a huge following. They would’ve been better off casting Mark Wahlberg or John Cena. Also, at first, I had difficulty imagining Joseph Gordon-Levitt palying the role of Cobra Commander. But the more I think about it, the more I believe that it is actually a good idea. There is nothing more vile and evil (in a movie) than a kid who is corrupted by revenge, greed and malicious intent. Although, I don’t think he can pull off the voice. Also, interchange Rachel Nichols and Sienna Miller’s roles. I think that would work better. Brendan Fraser as Gung-Ho? What’s so gung-ho about him? Forget it. Better not include the character in the movie.

Things that I’m looking forward to seeing are a fight scene between Quick Kick and Storm Shadow and Storm Shadow against Snake Eyes along with appearances from Sgt. Slaughter and the Renegades, just like in the 1980’s movie. Now that would bring back very good memories of the past.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hydrogen: The Answer to the Rising Cost of Fuel

The unique traits of hydrogen have not escaped the eyes of people who have sought the answer for an alternative fuel that is more effective, and far more abundant in supply. In fact, it was predicted by futurists that by 2010, hydrogen-powered cars will already be in production. During the time this prediction was told, it was deemed bold and it was treated with a lot of incredulity. But because of the numerous advances that are being made year by year, a mass-produced, hydrogen-powered may not be far from being possible. Frank Markus details the advantages of hydrogen in automotive applications in an article in Motor Trend, and here is an excerpt from that article:

Hydrogen to the rescue. This fuel of the future burns so quickly and easily, even in low concentrations, that converting 20 to 30 percent of the gasoline into hydrogen allows the engine to burn all its fuel under ultralean conditions. The carbon monoxide also reacts in the combustion chamber to form carbon dioxide, releasing energy in the process.

And here's a bonus: In the concentrations we're talking about here, hydrogen gas and CO inhibit knock quite effectively. Together, they manage to boost the effective octane rating of the fuel by 20 points (making regular unleaded behave like 107-octane racing fuel). This enables the engine to be heavily turbocharged and/or its compression ratio to be raised by three to four points.

Raising the boost and/or compression ratio of an engine allows it to be downsized dramatically and still achieve the same level of performance, which is how the hydrogen-enabled combustion engine concept derives most of its efficiency. Running an engine with lots of excess air also means the throttle plate stays open farther, so the engine does less work pumping air. Total fuel savings are pegged at 20 percent or better. That's equal to or better than diesel-fuel economy burning quiet, odorless, less-polluting gasoline--and it's all achieved without Alfen waves (whatever they are).

Mazda Recalls Demio, Among Others

Just a few days ago, a report went out about Mazda Motor Corp. recalling three of their passenger cars because as it turns out, they all have computer defects. One of these three Mazda cars is the Demio, which was also sold as the Mazda 121, Mazda Metro, Mazda 2 and Ford Festiva Mini Wagon. The name rings a bell, right? That is because the third generation of this model was named 2008 World Car of the Year title. It bested out other nominees such as the Audi A5, Audi R8, Cadillac CTS, Ford S-Max, and, what in my personal opinion is the best among the nominees (including the Demio), the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Can automotive journalists still recall their votes? I don’t’ think so. They should have done a more thorough job, instead of relying on figures.

Almost a million Demios have been sold ever since its introduction. And now, according to the transport ministry almost a quarter of this is being recalled. Granted that all of those produced in between March 2005 and October 2007 has not been sold, the sheer number of those with computer defects is alarming. After what I have learned, I will never buy a Mazda in the future. Not that I am planning on buying one because I am not a Mazda-type of guy. But I know a friend who owns a Mazda and if he hears about this, I’m sure the guy at the dealership will have his hands full. And the bad part is, the program defect in the ECU affects the braking distance of the vehicle. It may not be a problem if the owner has already adapted to it. However, what about the first-time users of the Demio? The safety of customers is the one compromised here. Mazda owners need more from the automaker than just an action to recall the vehicles. They need assurance that this does not happen again ever. Extensive road-testing must be done before any vehicle comes out in production. That is, like auto-making 101. People expect them not to make this kind of rookie mistake.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The 10 Most Fuel-Efficient 2008 Vehicles

Next to safety, mileage should be another prime consideration. What use is a stylish car if it takes like $5,000 to drive it yearly from your house to work and back on an everyday basis? Unless you are a millionaire, you better check the mpg (miles per gallon) rating of your vehicle. You can check it online, or if you are going to a car dealership it should be placed on a sticker that is conspicuous enough to be seen by everyone, much like the one you can see on tacked onto a brand new refrigerator. That sticker is placed there by the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA to relay the scores a particular vehicle has garnered during standard emission testing and the likes, so it is fairly reliable. It helps to do research online as well so you can make an informed decision. But you should be warned that these are just rough estimates, and gas mileage is oftentimes dependent on how you drive and maintain your vehicle. If, for example, you make a lot of start and stops while you drive, you will be using more fuel than when you are driving without many stops. But what is good about the EPA estimates is that it gives you a background on how well a particular car is expected to perform, assuming of course that you drive it properly and you take care of it.

I searched the web for the safest and least safe cars to come out this year and last year, respectively, and I deemed it fitting to do the same here in my newest post. I found a list made by Dan Shapley in the The Daily Green of the 10 Most Fuel-Efficient 2008 Vehicles. You can view the article by clicking here, or you can read on because I grabbed a few data from his comprehensive article.

The Toyota Prius Hybrid
No. 1 Most Fuel-Efficient 2008 Vehicle
No. 1 Most Fuel-Efficient 2008 Midsize Car
Fuel Economy
City: 48 mpg
Highway: 45 mpg
Fuel Cost:
25 Miles: $1.62
Per Year: $970
Annual Carbon Output:
4.0 tons

The Honda Civic Hybrid
No. 2 Most Fuel-Efficient 2008 Vehicle
No. 1 Most Fuel-Efficient 2008 Compact Car
Fuel Economy
City: 40 mpg
Highway: 45 mpg
Fuel Cost:
25 Miles: $1.77
Per Year: $1,064
Annual Carbon Output:
4.4 tons

The Nissan Altima Hybrid
No. 3 Most Fuel-Efficient 2008 Vehicle
Fuel Economy
City: 35 mpg
Highway: 33 mpg
Fuel Cost:
25 Miles: $2.19
Per Year: $1,314
Annual Carbon Output:
5.4 tons

The Ford Escape Hybrid
No. 4 (tie) Most Fuel-Efficient 2008 Vehicle
No. 1 (tie) Most Fuel-Efficient 2008 SUV
Fuel Economy
City: 34 mpg
Highway: 30 mpg
Fuel Cost:
25 Miles: $2.33
Per Year: $1,399
Annual Carbon Output:
5.7 tons

The Mazda Tribute Hybrid
No. 4 (tie) Most Fuel-Efficient 2008 Vehicle
No. 1 (tie) Most Fuel-Efficient 2008 SUV
Fuel Economy
City: 34 mpg
Highway: 30 mpg
Fuel Cost:
25 Miles: $2.33
Per Year: $1,399
Annual Carbon Output:
5.7 tons

The Mercury Mariner Hybrid
No. 4 (tie) Most Fuel-Efficient 2008 Vehicle
No. 1 (tie) Most Fuel-Efficient 2008 SUV
Fuel Economy
City: 34 mpg
Highway: 30 mpg
Fuel Cost:
25 Miles: $2.33
Per Year: $1,399
Annual Carbon Output:
5.7 tons

The Toyota Camry Hybrid
No. 7 Most Fuel-Efficient 2008 Vehicle
Fuel Economy
City: 33 mpg
Highway: 34 mpg
Fuel Cost:
25 Miles: $2.19
Per Year: $1,314
Annual Carbon Output:
5.4 tons

The Toyota Yaris
No. 8 Most Fuel-Efficient 2008 Vehicle
No. 1 Most Fuel-Efficient 2008 Subcompact Car
Fuel Economy
City: 29 mpg
Highway: 36 mpg
Fuel Cost:
25 Miles: $2.33
Per Year: $1,399
Annual Carbon Output:
5.7 tons

The Toyota Corolla
No. 9 Most Fuel-Efficient 2008 Vehicle
Fuel Economy
City: 28 mpg
Highway: 37 mpg
Fuel Cost:
25 Miles: $2.40
Per Year: $1,444
Annual Carbon Output:
5.9 tons

The Honda Fit
No. 10 Most Fuel-Efficient 2008 Vehicle
No. 1 Most Fuel-Efficient 2008 Small Station Wagon
Fuel Economy
City: 28 mpg
Highway: 34 mpg
Fuel Cost:
25 Miles: $2.40
Per Year: $1,444
Annual Carbon Output:
5.9 tons

The surprising thing is, three SUVs make it to the top ten. That makes the 2008 line-up of vehicles very impressive. So if you still want to own a family car, you can opt for an Escape, Tribute or a Mariner. Make a wise choice.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Latest List of Least Safe Cars

In my previous post, I cited the safest cars according to crash tests and statistics compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or IIHS. Now, those are the vehicles that you should buy. But then again, it all still depends on the driver. The test was just conducted to determine which ones will hold up well in an unforeseen and inevitable accident. Even if you are the most cautious driver, and even if you have an Audi A6, Acura RDX or a Honda CR-V, accidents can still happen. And that is what the safety features of your vehicle are for. It is also best to know which ones failed to pass the test conducted by the IIHS. I looked and looked for a list of least safe cars in 2008, but I can’t seem to find one, so I settled for the latest. I was able to find an article in Forbes.com which contained the info I was looking for. It was written by Dan Lienert and here is the list (in no particular order):

Ford Focus

2007 Ford Focus four-door, without optional side airbags
Safety issues:
--"Poor" side-impact rating from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
--Substantially worse-than-average frequency of injury claims filed
--Three-star frontal side-impact rating from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (out of a possible five stars)


2007 Mazda3 four-door, without optional side airbags
Safety issues:
--"Poor" side-impact rating from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
--Substantially worse-than-average frequency of injury claims filed
--Three-star frontal and rear side-impact ratings from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (out of a possible five stars)

Saturn Ion

2007 Saturn Ion four-door, with or without optional side airbags
Safety issues:
--"Poor" side-impact rating from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
--Substantially worse-than-average frequency of injury claims filed
--Three-star frontal side-impact ratings from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (out of a possible five stars)
--"Marginal" rear crash-protection rating from IIHS--the second lowest-possible rating

Suzuki Aerio

2007 Suzuki Aerio four-door and Aerio SX
Safety issues:
--"Poor" side-impact rating from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
--Substantially worse-than-average frequency of injury claims filed
--"Marginal" rear crash-protection rating from IIHS--the second lowest-possible rating

Suzuki Forenza

2007 Suzuki Forenza four-door
Safety issues:
--"Poor" side-impact rating from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
--Substantially worse-than-average frequency of injury claims filed
--"Poor" rear crash-protection rating from IIHS--the lowest-possible rating

Toyota Corolla

2007 Toyota Corolla four-door, without optional side airbags
Safety issues:
--"Poor" side-impact rating from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
--Substantially worse-than-average frequency of injury claims filed
--"Poor" rear crash-protection rating from IIHS--the lowest-possible rating

Chevrolet Cobalt

2007 Chevrolet Cobalt four-door, without optional side airbags
Safety issues:
--"Poor" side-impact rating from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
--Substantially worse-than-average frequency of injury claims filed
--"Safety concern" issued by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, based on Cobalt's performance in frontal side-impact testing

It is very surprising that Ford heads the list when they have a number of vehicle models in lists of safest cars. But the fact that it has no side airbags (even an optional one) guarantees it a spot on the list. Tests have proven that side airbags greatly reduce injury during a collision. It is even said to be the “new seatbelt”. And it actually makes sense. If you strategically place airbags all over the passenger compartment, you will be well protected during low-speed to moderate collisions. When you make a visit to a car dealership, you should think twice before you buy the abovementioned cars. But if you’re confident enough that you are a safe and cautious driver, then you can still get it if it’s what you fancy. All in all, the choice depends on you. The IIHS is just giving you facts. It’s up to you if you want to depend on it.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Safest Cars of 2008

Safety should always take precedence over speed when buying a vehicle, more so if it is not only your safety that is on the line, but those of others as well. While I am not a big fan of accidents, my prime consideration whenever I am driving is not myself but the well-being of my kids. That is what I am most concerned about. Safety is a very big issue for me, and I do not only settle on knowing what safety features a particular car has. I want to know how it holds up in a simulated or if possible, real life scenarios. Of course, by real life I don’t mean there should be a person driving the car and then see if he lives or not after an accident. A dummy would suffice.

When a car, truck or SUV goes out in the market, that means it has passed certain standards, and that it offers a degree of protection, enough to satisfy safety norms. That is ok. But the question is: How high/low is the safety level of that particular vehicle? If a vehicle has, for example, a safety rating of 7 and it is considered to be above average in terms of safety, should you consider buying it or settle for one that is rated an 8 or a 9? Of course you should get the one with the higher safety rating. It is for this reason why several groups conduct yearly tests to determine which cars are safe and which are not. One of these groups is the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or IIHS which is an “independent, nonprofit, scientific, and educational organization dedicated to reduce the losses — deaths, injuries, and property damage — from crashes on the nation's highways.” This organization is backed by auto-insurers so they would know which cars should have a low insurance rating, and which ones would cost a lot to insure. The safety of car owners is also another consideration.

I checked their website and they have already put out a list of the safest cars to come out in the year 2008, and here they are:

Large cars
Audi A6
Cadillac CTS
Ford Taurus with optional electronic stability control
Mercury Sable with optional electronic stability control
Volvo S80

Midsize cars
Audi A3
Audi A4
Honda Accord 4-door models
Saab 9-3
Subaru Legacy with optional electronic stability control

Midsize convertibles
Saab 9-3
Volvo C70

Small car
Subaru Impreza with optional electronic stability control

Honda Odyssey
Hyundai Entourage
Kia Sedona

Midsize SUVs
Acura MDX
Acura RDX
Ford Edge
Ford Taurus X
Honda Pilot
Hyundai Santa Fe
Hyundai Veracruz built after August 2007
Infiniti EX35
Lincoln MKX
Mercedes M class
Nissan Murano
Saturn VUE built after December 2007
Subaru Tribeca
Toyota Highlander
Volvo XC90

Small SUVs
Honda CR-V
Honda Element
Subaru Forester with optional electronic stability control

Large pickup
Toyota Tundra

You can check out this list, as well as past lists on their website by clicking here. If you want more proof of a vehicle’s safety rating, you can also gather information from other websites. I would suggest you check out the list at CNN.com Autos, Forbes.com and AOL Autos. If you buy a “safe” car, and then you drive with caution, you observe traffic rules and you stay alert, you will decrease the likeliness of getting into any kind of accident. It also pays to know which cars you should steer clear of. It is recommended that you do this kind of research before you buy any vehicle. I am going to provide you with a list, probably tomorrow, of the least safest cars to ever come out, if not this year, then last year.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Marvel that is Gran Turismo

Gran Turismo Logo

I walked in on my son playing Playstation in the den, and he was too engrossed on this car racing game. I found out later that its title is Gran Turismo 4. Normally, I would have let him be, but the game was about cars so I got intrigued. It is not that I’m ignorant or I’m afraid to touch the console, it is just that those kinds of things are not my cup of tea. Well, anyway, I sat with him for about 20 minutes. And it turns out that it is not only racing that you can do in the game, you can also acquire cars by winning, unlocking or buying ‘em. That is pretty neat. And as I sat there mesmerized, he even surprised me further by telling me that you can even modify the cars. I’ve heard that Pimp My Ride, a show in MTV, already has a video game version, but I did not expect a racing game to be this expansive. It is very different from the games I used to play in the arcade where all you do is turn this way and that and press button to change gears. However, busy man that I am, I did not play. What I did though is look up Gran Turismo in the web and I found out that there are more than 1 installment of the game. I found a brief summary in Wikipedia, and here it is:

Gran Turismo 1

As the best selling PlayStation game ever Gran Turismo is a legend throughout both the masses of car simulation games, and PlayStation fans. Naturally, GT is the least sophisticated of the primary game versions. It has 11 courses and 178 cars, and includes arcade and simulation modes.

Gran Turismo 2

Released in 1999/2000 for the PlayStation, Gran Turismo 2 has 28 courses and some 650 cars, making it one of the biggest games at the time; it was released as a double disc due to its sheer size. It also has dirt tracks, Racing modifications (race colors, etc.), tallies the player's game completion percentage, and has the series' first real life track, Laguna Seca.

Gran Turismo 3

The first installment of the Gran Turismo series on the PlayStation 2, Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec (GT3) featured vastly improved graphics and new gameplay features, such as oil changes. It was released in July of 2001. The Gran Turismo Mode has a reorganized layout, with a more structured and progressive arrangement of races and challenges. As of December 2007, the game has sold 1,890,000 copies in Japan, 7,140,000 in North America, 5,840,000 in Europe, and 10,000 in Southeast Asia.

Gran Turismo 4

Gran Turismo 4 (GT4) was released in 2004/2005 with 728 cars and 50+ racetracks (including the Nürburgring Nordschleife), and the notable additions of installable spoilers (different from "racing modification" in earlier versions), nitrous oxide, a photo mode, an auto-drive feature dubbed "B-spec", and HD capability. An online component, originally intended, was not included.

Aside from those four, there are prologues, special editions, limited production installments and Gran Turismo 5 Prologue which is set to be released this spring. I told my son over dinner that one of these days he should teach me how to play. He laughed at me. He said I can assemble car from scratch but I will find it hard to know which way in his controller was up or down. He may be exaggerating, but I did not pursue the topic further. I’ll just walk in on him someday and demand that he teach me. For more information about the game, you can visit the official Gran Turismo website by clicking here.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The 2009 Hummer H3T Unveiled

Dallas is so lucky. They got a first hand view of the 2009 Hummer H3T which was unceremoniously unveiled at the Dallas Auto Show. Being a huge Hummer fan, I would have been there if I was not tied up at work. I’ve been missing a lot of good auto shows lately. First there was the hugely successful NAIAS and now this. I’ve not been paying attention to the news so I was not aware that they were unveiling the H3T.

From what I have heard and what I’ve read, the 2009 Hummer H3t lives up to the brand name. You can see from the picture posted below that it is a pick-up truck, the first ever from Hummer. It is a bit larger than a mid-size pick-up truck, but not as large as a full-size one. It brings to mind images of the Ford F150, although the H3T has the trademark wide front fascia which is a noticeable spin-off from previous models. And it’s a bit bulkier and it offers a more menacing look. You know what the automaker just did? Cut the passenger compartment into two, making one part the cab and the other the truck bed. But who cares? It looks good anyway. Plus, you get to lug things around in the 1.5 meter truck bed.

As for the specs, it sports a Vortec 3.7 L I-5 engine. This five-cylinder engine is capable of producing as much as 242 hp at 5600 rpm, and 242 lb-ft of torque at 4600 rpm. Manual transmission comes standard on the H3T mainly because it is preferable for off-road driving. But if you’re lazy enough to shift gears, automatic transmission is available as well. The H3T Alpha which is slowly beginning to be the most favored trim has a 5.3L V8 engine that produces as much as 300 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque.

2009 Hummer H3TThe H3T is offered in four trims, including the V8-powered H3T Alpha which is rumored to have a towing capability of a tractor (well, not exactly!). But it can tow up to 5,900 pounds. That is very impressive for a non full-size truck. It also has 4WD capability, being an off-road machine like all its predecessors. It is fitted with 32-33-inch tires, depending on the trim. And skid shields make a great addition to its off-road capability. The cab is similar to the H3, except for the length, for obvious reasons. And the truck bed is lifted from GM’s newest designs of full-size trucks.

Now, about the interior, it has everything that you would expect from a Hummer. And that means, a spacious passenger compartment which can hold five people including the driver, and even six if I bring along my anorexic uncle. The design is very similar to the H3 SUV, and as always it has standard amenities like power features, radio and a/c. It’s also fitted with the OnStar technology, Bluetooth connectivity, a navigation system and a rear-view camera. The last one can be very helpful when towing stuff.

As for the icing on the cake, well Hummer is planning on marketing as much as 125 accessories for the H3T, and that includes many off-road tools that can make you feel like you can take on any trail in front of you. And, these accessories are even made for different applications, like water sports, biking, trekking, hiking and many other extreme sports. The 2009 Hummer H3T is a definitive must-have. It is set to be in production lines by the last quarter of this year, so expect it to come out early next year. And, by the way, the Hummer HX, which I featured on one post, is set to make a debut in 2010, as well another Hummer, the H4, Can’t wait for those to hit the market.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Afraid of Buying a Used Car? Get a New One, Instead.

I wrote a guideline on what things to look out for when buying a used car, and I deemed it right to post another one that details the things that one should consider before getting a new one. Being a family man, the first thing I ask about are the safety features. Next to that, I ask about the gas mileage. Then I take a look around the vehicle and I take about 20 minutes to check the engine. Only then do I take it for a test drive. And I don’t want to waste my time. If I don’t like a car at the onset I don’t bother the salesperson about it. And, by the way, I do research even before I go to a dealership. I check out the MSRP of vehicles, compare cars and check out the specs. Speed, for me, is not a prime consideration, mainly because I only do city driving, unless of course if the in-laws ask the family to visit. Even then I don’t drive fast because of the kids.

I also researched and found a checklist that’s very much like the one I cited in my previous post. I got this from the Better Business Bureau site. And I ignored the part about the safety features, specs, etc because those can be read off the manual or online. But when it comes to test driving the vehicle, here are a few things you should check out:

Visibility. Can you see the end of the hood and the trunk? Does any part of the car block your vision? Can you easily see all the mirrors?
Safety features. Check for manual or automatic seat belts, air bags, anti-lock brakes, and child safety locks.
Steering wheel placement. Are you comfortable behind the wheel? Is it easy to adjust the steering wheel, the seat, and mirrors?
Entry/exit. Is it easy to get in and out of the car from each position?
Seating. Does each passenger have plenty of head and leg room? Check rear seats, too. Fasten the safety belt in each position. Each belt should fit snugly across the hips; shoulder harnesses should ride comfortably across the shoulder.
Instrument panel and controls. While driving, can you quickly and easily check the speedometer and fuel gauge? Try the windshield wipers, lights, turn signals and other functions to see how easy they are to operate. Check the climate controls.
Trunk. Is there enough space in the trunk or cargo area? Is it easy to get to the spare tire?
Engine. Does it accelerate smoothly? Does it have enough "passing power?" Slow down and speed up a few times to check out the responsiveness of the engine. Does the engine idle smoothly, or does it appear to race?
Transmission. If the car has an automatic transmission, does it shift smoothly between speeds, without jolting? If it is a manual, check the feel of the clutch, and the ease of shifting gears.
Ride. Is the ride smooth? Does it offer responsive handling that makes you feel comfortable in all road conditions?
Parking. Does your car maneuver easily into a parking space? Does the steering wheel turn easily? Parallel park the car. Does any part of the car obstruct your view?
Braking. Take the car out to a stretch of empty road, accelerate to about 40 mph and make an emergency stop. Does the car stop in a straight line without pulling to one side? Do the brakes lock up?
Steering/handling. When your grip is relaxed on the steering wheel, does the car drift? At highway speeds, does the steering wheel provide a firm feel of the road? Is the car stable when you turn corners?
Noise levels. With windows closed, listen to the noise level. Listen for engine noises when accelerating. At lower speeds, listen for road noises and tire sounds. At highway speeds, listen for wind whistling outside the windows.
Exterior. Is the car's finish glossy and even? Check for evenly aligned body panels and secure trim.

If the car has passed all of those, and if it has passed your standards when it comes to look and/or image, delay buying it for another day and think about it over night. Do more research online. And if it really satisfies all your wants and needs, then you can get it the next day, assuming of course if it fits your budget. Be a smart buyer.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Planning On Buying A Used Car? Go Prepared!

With the soaring prices of cars nowadays, which by the way is mainly the result of rising production costs and the addition of numerous automotive technologies, people are oftentimes backed into a wall and are forced to buy used cars instead. There’s no problem with buying a used car. I’m all for it, as a matter of fact. I’ve bought my share of used cars, two to be exact. One I bought when I graduated from high school, and the other was when I first started working. So long as you know what you’re doin’ you’ll be able to get a car that’s as good as a brand new one.

Some people take one long and lingering look at a car and they immediately judge it to be in good/bad condition. If they’re lucky enough they could be right on the money, but if they’re not, they’ll end up with a lousy car. So, if you can’t bring a mechanic friend along with you to check a used car for you, then it’d be best if you are armed with the knowledge of what to look out for. I browsed the Net and found site managed by the Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles and this is a few of their recommendations when buying a used car.

Exterior Checklist:

• Check for nicks and scratches
• Look for ripples, waves, poorly fitted panels and mismatched colors.
• Check for bubbles along molding or chrome (indicates rust underneath).
• Check for welding spots on the frame (serious accident or repairs).
• Stand back approximately 10 to 15 feet from the car and see if the car is level.
• Check the shocks by pushing down on each corner of the car and letting go.
• Check the tires (sidewall cracks, uneven tire wear, brake fluid leakage)
• Look under the car for: oil spots, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, or shock absorber fluid.
• Open the hood and check belts and hoses for cracks or wear.
• Pull out the oil dipstick. Oil should not be gummy or grayish or smell burnt.

Interior Checklist

• Check the mileage
• Compare mileage on service stickers (door jamb/under hood) to the odometer reading.
• Check the condition of the seats, belts and carpeting.
• Check the windows to see if they open and close easily.
• Check the brake, accelerator and clutch -- should work smoothly, no strange noises.
• Check all exterior lights and flashers on the car
• Start the engine and check the warning lights and gauges
• Make certain that the air conditioning blows very cold air.
• Check the glove box for the owner's manual.

Test Drive Checklist

• Drive the car on hills, highways and in stop-and-go traffic.
• Start the engine and press down on the brake.
• Listen for noises which could indicate engine problems.
• Check the lights on the control panels--be sure they all work.
• Clutch should engage and disengage smoothly without grabbing
• Does the car bounce or bang over small bumps?
• Check the temperature gauge to see if it shows a high reading
• Cut off the engine. Then restart the engine -- does it restart easily?
• Check the tailpipe. Are there any black, sooty oil deposits?
• Does the odometer mileage seem to match the physical condition of the car?
• Check odometer for scratches, misaligned digits, digits that stick.

Again, those are just a few guidelines. As for me, I always come prepared with a checklist. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy with me now. What I did was search online, again, and fortunately enough, I was able to find a very comprehensive one made by a Mr. Todd R. Haverstock. Here’s the link to that site – Used Car FAQ. If you follow all of those, it would seem like you’re a mechanic yourself. And one last thing, don’t let yourself be bullied or talked into buying a car that you really don’t want. Salespeople do that, so be wary. Hope this helps.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Car Safety Features Get a Needed Bolster

According to statistics, teenage pregnancy is not the most common accident in the United States; it’s actually rear-ending a vehicle. I’m not kidding at all. Every second there’s someone in the U.S. who is at the moment crashing or bumping into the rear-end of another vehicle. That’s why innovative automakers have made it a point to integrate added safety features to their vehicle which is designed to prevent those dangers. And, oh, by the way this technology is relatively new. Not many cars are fitted with this. It’s what is called the automatic braking system, not very technical-sounding, eh? But it’s very helpful, to say the least.

This brake system is composed of a set of sensors and wires connected to the vehicle’s existing brake system. This is basically how it works: Infrared sensors along the front of the vehicle measure the distance between the object in front of the car and the vehicle’s front end. Once the other vehicle comes too close for comfort, the automatic braking system engages the brake in order to slow down the vehicle (not stop). Once the driver notices this sudden change, he’ll be aware of the other vehicle and apply the brakes fully if it’s necessary. Without me saying so, you’ll know how helpful this device is. And I just wish more cars are fitted with this, which by the way reminds me to ask my friend at the auto shop if it’s available as an aftermarket upgrade. I hope it is. It would be useful in city-driving and if ever I fall asleep while driving, which I hope I don’t.

Iconic Bug Makes a Comeback


It looks like the VW Beetle is making a comeback. It is said to be the face of VW’s new campaign that will start some time next week. But then again, this move only precedes the introduction of the automaker’s newest line-up of vehicles which is composed of the Tiguan crossover SUV, Passat CC, Routan minivan, clean diesel Jetta TDi, and the Jetta SportWagen among others. On the other hand, it’s expected to bolster the clamor of people who love old-school cars for a new version of the “Bug”.

I definitely won’t say no to that. I haven’t been an owner of a classic Beetle, but my brother had one when I was young, and he was a proud owner. The Beetle at that time was sort of iconic, and he used to teach me how to drive using his beat-up Beetle instead of my dad’s car. And, trust me; it was very easy to drive. And you don’t even have to worry about wrecking the engine if you bump into anything because it is at the back. One sad thing though (and I remembered this because my son snuck up to me while I was writing this post): In the recent Transformers movie, Bumblebee was shown as a Chevy Camaro, instead of a Beetle because of some misunderstanding between VW and the producers, or so they say. That might have turned up well for the movie, but for people, like my son, who adores the Transformers franchise ever since he was a kid, it was a bit disappointing. But that’s already water under the bridge.

Lastly, VW is worried because their marketing strategy comes off as being silly at the outset, but if you think about it, one look at the restored 1964 black Bug, which is named “Max” by the way, people will immediately think of Volkswagen. And when they do they’ll wonder what’s new with the company. That’s when the new line-up is introduced. It’s a great move, if you ask me. I just hope that the new models live up to the hype generated by the iconic Bug.