Saturday, April 28, 2007

Toyota vs. General Motors...Comparison Test

Pontiac G6 near Zion National Park, Utah

As you can see from my profile, my wife and I have two late-model Camrys, one a 2004 LE 4-cylinder with 4-speed automatic and the other a 2005 XLE 4-cylinder with 5-speed automatic. This is really by family happenstance that we have two nearly identical cars.

As posted earlier, we took a vacation to the southwest US last month. Gorgeous scenery and very nice weather; not too many tourists either. So if you're an empty nester or otherwise have no school-age kids, go in spring or fall.

We flew to Las Vegas and rented a 2007 Pontiac G6 sedan from Alamo. The Alamo experience has its own sorry sideline, but I'll deal with the car itself, not the rental company. We drove over 1600 miles total, on 2-lanes and interstates (and a few unpaved roads), flat land and mountains, so we gave it a good workout.

Of course, in traditional rental car fashion, the car was a base G6 without even anti-lock brakes. Side curtain airbags were standard (wonderful), and it did have a sunroof(!), 3.5-liter V6, alloy wheels, coal-bin black cloth interior, and manually adjusted seats (except power height adjuster for the driver).

Pluses: nice V6 power, competent A/C with the intuitive manual rotary climate controls (3 simple knobs - pioneered in the US by the '86 Taurus). Good ride, good handling. Steering felt artificially heavy at first, but we quickly got used to it. Nice sized trunk, comfy front seats with good side bolstering. Engine compartment was well laid out for checking oil and adding water to the EMPTY washer reservoir, etc. Wind noise from the sunroof was actually quieter when it was fully open than when tilted up, the opposite of our '04 Camry. (We had it open a lot.) There even was a padded ("soft-touch") dash, except for the center stack. We never used the radio. So in terms of the basics, give GM a thumbs up!

Minuses: 4-speed auto with no discernible engine braking when placed into 3rd on steep high-speed downgrades. Like our former '90 Mercury Sable, you can't manually select 2nd for lower speed downgrades. No "PRNDL" indicator on the dash. Red gauge lighting -- okay, but not really my preference. "MPH" illuminated in red on the speedo -- makes you think a warning light is on, especially at night. Too-small side glass (when can we have big windows back)?

Have to use the trip computer to reset the twin trip meters -- why not the usual button on the speedo instead? Tiny YELLOW indicators on the climate control to indicate recirc vs. fresh air, and a/c on. Why not green? Yellow's fine for the rear defogger. The passenger seat was like sitting in a tub -- way down low. My wife and I couldn't reach items temporarily placed on the dash from the passenger seat, with the seat all the way back for maximum legroom. The cruise control didn't hold speeds as steadily as in our Camrys, and those dainty little buttons for "set" and "resume" have to go! And there were no recesses in the headliner to store the thick sun visors.

On the details, give GM a thumbs down!

Overall winner -- Camry.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The inevitable has occurred...Toyota passes GM to become #1

It's official as of today. Toyota is now the world's largest automaker. The company sold 2.35 million vehicles worldwide in the first quarter of calendar 2007, ahead of General Motors' sales of 2.26 million units. GM had been the top automaker for more than 75 years.

My wife and I have been very happy with the 2 Camrys we now own, as well as the 1997 model Camry that preceded them. She had a 1975 Corolla at the time we were married. Who would have thought then that Toyota would surpass all others?

It should be noted that GM still sells more cars in the US than Toyota -- for now!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Week of Terrible Anniversaries

Today, April 19, marks the anniversaries of two horrors: the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City by Tim McVeigh in 1995 that cost 168 lives and the shootout and fire at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas in 1993 that killed about 79. Tomorrow will be 8th anniversary of the Columbine school shootings that left 13 innocent victims dead. And this past Monday, another grisly day was added to the list: the killing of 32 innocent students and professors at Virginia Tech University.

Tomorrow is also the anniversary of the birth of Adolf Hitler in 1889.

Corzine crash revisited

More has now been revealed in New Jersey about last week's vehicle crash involving Governor Corzine. The onboard event data recorder ("black box") determined his SUV was traveling 91 mph just before the crash.

The other drivers were just trying to get out of the way when the collision occurred between Corzine's SUV and a pickup truck, with the Suburban then going to the left and hitting a guardrail at 30 mph, again according to the EDR. Corzine wasn't belted and was severely injured. He's lucky to be alive. The state trooper driving the SUV was belted and sustained only minor injuries.

And what was the "emergency" that caused the furious pace (26 mph over the speed limit)? They were rushing to the governor's mansion for a meeting between Don Imus and the Rutger's women's basketball team!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Has Bob Lutz lost his marbles...or not?

Bob Lutz is supposed to be General Motor's "car guru." He's an ex-Marine and worked for both Chrysler and Ford. Now he sounds like a 75-year-old crybaby (or so I thought at first). This is his sob story, as related by Jim Mateja of the Chicago Tribune:

GM puts brake on rear-drive vehicles

Published April 10, 2007

General Motors has put a hold on future rear-wheel-drive vehicles.

"We've pushed the pause button. It's no longer full speed ahead," Vice Chairman Bob Lutz revealed in an interview.

The RWD cars, you see, would be larger and heavier than front-wheel-drive cars or are high-performance models.

So it comes down to the matter of fuel economy. Or as Lutz says: "We don't know how to get 30 percent better mileage from" RWD cars.

That 30 percent bogey arises from a proposal by the Bush administration to raise corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards by 4 percent a year so cars would have to average 34 mpg by 2017, up from 27.5 mpg today. On top of that, the Supreme Court ruled last week that the Environmental Protection Agency can regulate carbon dioxide expelled by cars, a gas that contributes to global warming. The EPA doesn't do so now.

"We'll decide on our rear-drive cars when the government decides on CO2 levels and CAFE regulations," Lutz said, adding that limiting CO2 would increase mileage, too.

"Carbon dioxide is a natural byproduct of burning gas and directly proportional to the amount of fuel burned. If we legislate CO2 from cars, why not legislate we take one less breath per minute since humans release capricious amounts of CO2 each time they exhale?" offered a testy Lutz. [emphasis added by Mike]

Lutz also points out that higher mileage will come at a price, with the proposal to raise CAFE certain to increase costs by as much as $5,000, which will be added to a car's sticker, an amount most consumers won't be willing to pay. There are no hard numbers for how much CAFE compliance adds to the sticker now.

"Rather than buy new, people would hang onto their old cars. We could eat the $5,000, but that would put us out of business."

Lutz also objects to the talk that carmakers can easily raise mileage with a very low investment.

"Academics assure us that for $200 we can get 30 percent better mileage. If anyone can figure out how to do that for $200 -- or even for $1,000 -- I want them in my office today. Show me how to do it and we'll adopt it," he said. "If I could increase mileage by 30 percent for $200, why wouldn't I? What's my motivation not to when a gas-electric hybrid gets 27 percent better mileage and I hope someday to get the cost down to $9,000?"

I had originally thought this was just a silly rant from Lutz and that maybe he should be given his walking papers. After all, he sounded like Hank (the Deuce) Ford and Lee Iacocca crying on Nixon's shoulder about safety standards and emissions controls threatening to put Ford out of business back in the 1970s.

But then it hit me. Lutz is putting on an act, hoping to get sympathy from the pro-business Bush administration. Surely, George Bush wouldn’t want to be known for putting the final nail in GM’s coffin.

The irony is that Bush isn’t even directly proposing an increase in fuel economy standards to 34 mpg in 10 years. Bush simply set a goal of America using
8.5 billion fewer gallons of gasoline annually by 2017. Improving average fuel economy is only one way to achieve this goal, but using alternative fuels like ethanol, biodiesel, and battery electric power are others. Or we could drive less and use public transportation more. So it’s just a charade on Lutz’s part, but a shrewd one.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Another big truck encounter

I almost got my left rear corner crunched by a tractor-trailer driving too fast for conditions. This was in my 2004 Camry that got smashed in the same place by a hit-and-run driver in Los Angeles while it was parked overnight, causing over $4,000 in damage!

I was talking with my wife and hadn't looked in the rear-view mirror as often as I usually do. So when I did look up, going about 45 mph in fairly heavy traffic (2 lanes in one direction), I saw this truck coming up and swerving left, missing my bumper by maybe a foot or so. I did manage to move to the right side of the lane.

Well, there were several traffic lights that turned red ahead of us, so I remembered some advice from the internet, caught up with the truck, and had my wife write down all of the identifying numbers on the tractor, along with the name of the trucking company. There was no phone number indicated.

The truck driver knew we were up to something as he tooted his horn at one point, since we kept looking at his vehicle to get the information.

I called the company after we got home and spoke to a nice man who took down all of my information. He said it would be passed along to the safety division, noted on the guy's record, and if enough further complaints came in, he would be fired. Google and gave me the right phone number in seconds!

So don't get mad or bother with the police. Just call the trucking company! This is the second time I've done this, and both times, the recipients seemed to be glad I called.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Governor Corzine caught not using seat belt

While I sincerely hope that Governor Jon Corzine of New Jersey fully recovers from the injuries suffered yesterday evening as a result of a vehicle crash on the Garden State Parkway, I can't believe he wasn't wearing a seat belt while riding in the right front seat of his state-trooper driven Chevy Suburban:

Eyewitness News -- Channel 7, New York

- Officials say New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine was apparently not wearing a seat belt when his SUV crashed on the Garden State Parkway Thursday night.

I mean, he's not a gun-totin' ''live free or die" right-wing rugged individualist as far as I know. Does he expect his state police escort to magically part traffic like the Red Sea so his car will never hit another one? If anything, he certainly sets a poor example when seat belt use has been mandatory in his state since 1985 (and is now the law in all other states except New Hampshire). I can only hope he learns something from this incident.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Whither Chrysler...and Ford and GM?

With regard to the domestic auto industry, I'd very much like to see it succeed, because as someone once said, "competition improves the breed." The more competition in auto choices we have, the better ALL cars will be.

Detroit became fat and lazy in the past because there was too little competition, once Studebaker, Hudson, Kaiser, et al folded. Oh, we could buy those "foreign cars" from Europe, but most were too small, weird, or expensive for American tastes. Only Volkswagen, with its Beetle and to a lesser extent its Microbus, achieved a modicum of success. It wasn't until the Asian cars began their "invasion" in earnest after Detroit was caught napping after the first oil shock that the imports really took off. Toyota passed VW as the largest importer in 1975 and never looked back.

I remember Chrysler’s Lee Iacocca bleating over and over again in the early 1980s about "leveling the playing field" by demanding that the Asians build their products here. Well, be careful of what you wish for!

Now it looks like General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler are in as much trouble as the hapless "independents" in the 50s and early 60s. Hopefully, the situation can be turned around, but Chrysler’s fortunes appear especially bleak now that DaimlerChrysler is trying to sell off the Chrysler portion. If a private equity firm gets the winning bid, I can’t see how the company won’t be broken up and only the best parts, such as the Jeep brand, remain in production.

Since the 70s, a lot of people were "converted" to the imports, and many won't be coming back. Worse for the domestics, the children of the converts heard lots of stories about the "bad old days," so they in turn don't want domestic products either.

Don't take my word for it -- look what Joe Sherlock said in his blog, “The View through the Windshield." His dad worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad, once one of America's mightiest corporations, now gone. Joe is a consummate car guy and grew up loving domestic cars. He even has a classic (though modded) '39 Plymouth. Now as you know, I don’t agree with his politics, but his views on cars are usually right on the money. Read his take on where Detroit went wrong here. And his update here.

Then contrast that with his personal experience with a 2005 Toyota Avalon:

My wife's Toyota Avalon is now two years old. We have not had a single problem with it - no rattles, squeaks, electrical gremlins or mechanical issues. The Avalon has great fit-and-finish and is dead-bang reliable. It is also a pleasant car to drive. It is not a driver's car like my Jaguar sedan - the handling is not as crisp and/or sporty and, on long trips, the seats are not as comfortable. The exterior styling is unexceptional, although the interior is very nice. But the Toyota is a fine car nonetheless and we are very satisfied. We average 23-25 mpg in mixed driving and close to 30 mpg on the highway - all on regular gas.