Consumer Reports Best American Cars For 2010

Consumer Reports does a lot of things differently (like not accepting advertising, buying the cars they test). And one of them is creating a separate list of Top Picks from American car companies.

Well, this year's list is out now...and it's a Ford/Lincoln/Mercury, Chevy/GMC/Cadillac list. Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep are nowhere to be found. For that matter, Buick is MIA.

Interestingly, the editors couldn't recommend an American vehicle in the "family hauler" category.

NHTSA Buys "Possessed" Lexus; Will Test

One day after disclosing that Rhonda Smith sold the car (today's clarification from NHTSA: traded it to a Toyota dealer) after what she called a "near-death" experience and that a family has put 27,000 trouble-free miles on the vehicle since then (something that no one mentioned during Tuesday's hearing), the NHTSA has written that family a check and taken possession (pardon the pun) of the vehicle. They plan to test it.

Toyota Accused Of Withholding Test And Design Data

The chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform accused Toyota on Friday of withholding relevant documents when fighting lawsuits filed by crash victims.


"Possessed" Lexus Still On The Road...27,000 Trouble-Free Miles Later

If that were your car, what would you do?

The Wall Street Journal (sub required...comments can be read free) reports that Rhonda Smith sold it...and another family has been driving it since.

That's right. Not  "demanded Toyota replace it under the Lemon Law".

Not "parked it and sued Toyota for its replacement cost".

We need to know just how that went down, I think. Trade it in and let the dealer work out the ethics? Craigslist? eBay? A close friend or neighbor?

And Rhonda? She needs to head right back to Capitol Hill, sit down in front of that committee, under oath, and give a word-by-word description of just how that transaction went down.

I mean, what do you say? "3,000 miles, creampuff, only tried to kill me once"?

"It's to die for?"

"Once you drive it, you'll never stop?"

Did she show them the CarFax?

Rhonda Smith's testimony is that she really believed she was going to die in that car.  The fact that she would then sell it to another human being (even a dealer trade assumes it will end up being driven by someone again) raises questions about whether her testimony was, in fact, true.

As does the fact that the new owners have put 27,000 miles on the ES350 trouble-free.

And where was this fact in Tuesday's hearing? Nowhere. Not mentioned by a single member of the committee, by Toyota Motor Sales USA president Jim Lentz and certainly not by Rhonda Smith.

In this week's Memo From Michael, I make the argument that we don't know enough about what's causing the Toyota incidents to accuse dead or injured drivers of incompetence.

Mrs. Smith is alive and wasn't hurt. The sale of the vehicle opens questions about her actions on the road that day, and the veracity of her testimony Tuesday.

Photo Radar Tickets: 62% Unpaid In One State

Desperate for money, city, county and state governments around the country are looking hard at anything that throws off cash with little or preferably no effort and manpower.

Which brings us to photo radar. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would like to change the law in his state that currently bans speed cameras (red-light cameras are legal in the Golden State), which he says could generate $338 million.

But...as The Los Angeles Times reports...$338 million in tickets doesn't necessarily means $338 million in fines paid.


Kegger At The Sierra Club: GM Kills Hummer

Automotive News (you can register for free) broke the story late Wednesday that Hummer is history. After two years on the block and a thisclose deal with a Chinese manufacturer, the deal just couldn't be done. GM says Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machines Co. Ltd. was "unable to complete the acquisition", and so they'll wind down the brand.

It's hard to remember now, but Hummer was white-hot when it first hit showrooms in the early '00s. Its peak sales year was 2006, when 71,524 of them found homes, largely in suburbia.  The economy in general and gas prices in particular slammed the brakes on...with only 9,046 sold last year.

FBI Raids Toyota Suppliers

The Federal Bureau of Investigation confirms it raided the offices of three Toyota suppliers as part of an anti-trust investigation. Toyota itself says it wasn't contacted by authorities. Full details from the Los Angeles Times:

Toyoda To Obama: "Toyota Cars Are Safe"

Toyota president Akio Toyoda told Congress today he takes full responsibility for the recall of millions of his company's cars, but that he would tell President Obama "Toyota cars are safe".


This, in the same hearing where Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in a deja vu moment linked to his February 3 testimony that owners should "stop driving" their Toyotas, only to retract it at the end of the hearing, told lawmakers the millions of recalled Toyotas "were not safe". As before, he amended his comments by saying the cars needed to be repaired and owners should consult their dealerships.

LaHood at times appeared to be in the hot seat to a greater degree than Toyoda, as members of the Congressional Oversight and Government Reform Committee probed to determine whether the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is doing its job  and whether the U.S. government's ownership stake in General Motors might affect equal treatment of automakers under its watch.


Live Video Streaming and Blogging of Toyota/Toyoda Testimony

The Lede, The New York Times News Blog, will be providing live blogging and MSNBC live video streaming of Toyota president Akio Toyoda's testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform as well as other testimony and discussion Wednesday. 

Click here to follow.  There's also commercial-free, break-free video streaming available from C-SPAN.

Hyundai Halts Sales of 2011 Sonata Over Door Lock Issues

5,000 of the vehicles, which arrived in showrooms 2 weeks ago, are in the U.S. and so far, only about 1,300 in buyers' hands.

Parts will reach dealers beginning tomorrow and Hyundai says the sales halt will end as soon as repairs to models in stock are made.

Lentz to Congress: Recall May "Not Totally" Solve Problem

Testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Tuesday, Toyota Motor Sales USA president Jim Lentz told lawmakers the gas pedal recall affecting millions of the company's vehicles may not solve the problem.

Lentz said the company is still investigating the problem, including the possibility that the electronics system may be at fault.

Also testifying today, United States Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who told the committee the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has found no evidence of electronics issues and believes floor mats and sticky pedals pose the greatest threat.

And the committee heard the testimony of Rhonda Smith, who says her Lexus sedan sped out of control for six minutes, reaching 100 miles an hour in 2006.  Mrs. Smith called Toyota's response to her complaint "a farce."

There was an emotional moment as Lentz mentioned that he had lost his brother in an automobile accident 26 years ago. His voice breaking, he told lawmakers "There's not a day that goes by that I don't think of what these families go through."

Tomorrow's News Today: Akio Toyoda's Prepared Testimony Released

The House of Representatives seems to be running ahead of schedule...at least when it comes to testimony. It released Toyota Motor Sales USA President Jim Lentz' Tuesday testimony to the media late Monday...but we know what Akio Toyoda will say Wednesday at lunchtime on the west coast today.

Consumer Reports Issues Automaker Report Card; Suspends Recommendations For Recalled Toyota Models

It's report card day at Consumer Reports...Hyundai and Ford are happy. Toyota? A mixed bag. But the Prius keeps its Recommended status. Read the results here.

Lentz: Toyota "Didn't Live Up To The High Standards Our Customers Expect"

The Detroit News has published an advance copy of Toyota Motor Sales USA President Jim Lentz' remarks before a Congressional committee today, as well as those of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Lentz says the company has "taken too long to come to grips with a rare but serious set of safety issues."

Chrysler/Dodge Minivan Airbag Recall

312,000 model year 2005 and 2006 Dodge Caravan, Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivans are being recalled.

The airbag sensors can crack, water can get inside and then the airbags don't work as designed.

Read the recall notice here.

Not too comforting...the actual recalling and repair doesn't start until June.

VIDEO: University Professor Induces Unintended Acceleration In Toyota Avalon With ABC's Brian Ross At The Wheel

Southern Illinois University professor David Gilbert says a short-circuit can cause the cars to accelerate suddenly and not leave a trace in the car's fault codes.

Toyota's response? Click here.


Toyota's Hired Gun

When Toyota goes to Capitol Hill this week, or before a federal grand jury at a date to be announced,  they won't be walking in alone.

The Los Angeles Times has a profile of the U.S. company Toyota has hired in hopes of disproving claims that their cars are capable of unintended acceleration caused by electronic throttles.

Previous clients? Exxon (Valdez), NASA (Challenger), FEMA (Oklahoma City federal building bombing) and at least one of Toyota's competitors (Ford).

Toyota: Records Subpoenaed by U.S. Grand Jury, Requested by SEC

Toyota announced today that it received a subpoena for documents related to unintended acceleration and braking issues which prompted its huge recall from a federal grand jury (southern District of New York).

Date they got that subpoena? February 8.

As in two weeks ago today.

This, of course, is a big fat hairy deal...and Toyota should know it. If the grand jury doesn't like what it reads, the end result can be criminal charges.

A bit more recently, Toyota says it got a voluntary request from the Los Angeles office of the Securities and Exchange Commission last Friday (February 19) for related documents, including the company's disclosure policies.

Document: Toyota Saved $100 Million By "Negotiating" Sudden Acceleration Recall With Feds

Be careful what you put in writing. Dad probably told you that. But according to a report in this morning's Los Angeles Times, Toyota Motor Company execs put together a presentation in July, 2009 that talks about how the company saved $100 million by negotiating with the U.S. Government to limit a recall linked to sudden acceleration claims..from all vehicles possibly involved to 55,000 floor mats.

The Times also reports Toyota realized cost savings for delaying the implementation of a federal safety rule, stalling or mitigating safety regulations, and avoiding a government probe of a vehicle Toyota had issued a buyback program on.

Stand by for more. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has 50,000 documents in its posession from Toyota...and will get 5,000 more today from a former company counsel who says Toyota tried to hide evidence of safety defects from regulators and the public.


Volkswagen Golf TDI Review

As good as the new Volkswagen Golf is...there are two three-letter combinations that can make it even better.

One is "GTI".

The other is "TDI".

TDI is VW's clean diesel engine. And as much as we love it in the Jetta sedan,  it's a revelation in the new platform Golf.

House Committee Subpoenas Documents From Former Toyota Counsel; Toyota Had Filed Injunction To Prevent Their Release

The same House committee (Oversight and Government Reform) before which Toyota President Akio Toyoda will testify next week about the automaker's gas pedal recall has subpoenaed records in the possession of former Toyota American National Managing Counsel Dimitrios Biller.

Biller told ABC News earlier this month that Toyota had tried to hide "evidence of safety defects from consumers and regulators and fostered a culture of hypocrisy and deceit." Biller said he had documents in his possession that would validate that claim.

Toyota filed an injunction preventing Biller from releasing those documents, but the House committee subpoena overrules that.


Mr. Toyoda Goes To Washington

Well, that didn't take long. Literally hours after being formally invited to testify before Congress about Toyota's gas pedal recall, company president Akio Toyoda said he'll be there.

House Committee To Toyoda: Consider Yourself Invited

Toyota President Akio Toyoda's announcement Wednesday that he wouldn't be attending next week's congressional hearings into the company's gas pedal recall and would instead let Toyota's North American chief represent the automaker was, in this climate, guaranteed to get a response.

It's not a subpoena (yet), but the Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has formally invited Toyoda to testify. 


Detroit News: NHTSA To Announce Formal Investigation Into Toyota Corolla

The Detroit News reports that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration will announce a formal investigation into complaints about steering in the Toyota Corolla Thursday.

As we reported Wednesday, Toyota is considering a recall of the 2009 and 2010 models, which use electrical rather than mechanical steering...converting the steering wheel from an implement which is directly linked to and physically turns the front wheels into a control device that sends electrical impulses to a computer, which then tells the wheels which way to turn, how much and how quickly.

More than 160 Corolla drivers have complained to the feds, many claiming the cars veered sharply and suddenly at speeds above 40 miles per hour. At least 10 injuries have been alleged.

Toyota Corolla Recall Possible; Brake Override System Will Be In All Models Soon; Company President Won't Appear Before Congress

Toyota says it's considering recalling its best selling model (and the world's), the Corolla. Consumer complaints about cars veering off track have grown since Toyota switched from mechanical to electrical steering (which changes the steering wheel from a direct connection to the wheels and makes it an input device which a computer then decodes and acts upon) in the Corolla.

Nissan Investigating Driveshaft Problems In Its Nissan and Infiniti Trucks And SUVs

Just days after Toyota announced a recall of its Tacoma pickups for a driveshaft component flaw, Nissan is investigating a similar flaw and what to do about it.


Chevrolet Equinox Review

And the award for "most improved" goes to.....

No, I'm not kidding. The past four years of the Chevy Equinox couldn't have been blander (quick..can you really picture one?). It was dead on arrival and buried by every new small SUV or crossover that came along since.

But this....if they'd had 535 of these to put in the Capitol parking lot a year ago, Congress would have passed a GM bailout bill so fast it would have made your head swim. There would have been no bankruptcy.

Toyota Death Toll Rises But Few "New" Deaths

Federal regulators now say at least 34 people have died in accidents invoving Toyota vehicles where unintended acceleration is a suspected cause. That's 13 more people than the feds had said a month ago.
But...The Los Angeles Times actually read the report and found that only one of those 13 was a new crash...and that some of the other 12 go back as far as 1992...meaning the publicity is causing cases that may or may not be proved to be relevant to come out of the woodwork.


Toyota Recalls 8,000 Model Year 2010 Tacoma 4WD Pickups

This time it's voluntary. Toyota says 8,000 of its 2010 Tacoma 4X4 pickups contain a front drive shaft component that could contain cracks, causing the front drive shaft to separate, resulting in a loss of control.

Exercise caution for the next 30 days...Toyota says affected owners will be notified by mail....in mid-March.

Lexus LX 570 Review

Return with us now to the good old days.

Mid-2007, say.

That's when the current-generation Lexus LX 570 hit the showroom floors as a 2008 model. When bigger was better, when more was more. When an SUV dripping in all the luxury and tech the Toyota gang could muster, with a base price of more than $70,000 and an EPA mileage estimate that wouldn't challenge your ability to count too far into double-digits was no big deal...at least not for the intended clientele.

It was the days of "go big or go home"...and Lexus went big.


Volkswagen Golf Review

35 years ago, Volkswagen revolutionized the concept of the small car with the original Golf (sold here for many years as the Rabbit). The basic shape and proportions are still recognizable, but the changes have been evolutionary, and it's easy to write off each generation as not having changed that much from the one before.

Big mistake.

It's impossible to overstate the refinements the 2010 Golf brings to the game....the leap forward it represents from last year's model, and how much better it is than virtually everything in its size and price class.


Honda Expands Airbag Recall; More Than 800,000 Cars In U.S., Total

Honda says driver's-side airbags in many of its 2001 and 2002 Honda and Acura vehicles could deploy with too much force, resulting in injury or death.

Tough guys will say "Hey, I can take a punch"...but that's not what Honda's talking about here. The force involved could shatter the inflator casing and send metal fragments flying through the airbag cushion material and into...well, you and your passengers.

Same basic principle as a grenade.

Honda says it's aware of a total of 14 incidents, with one fatality.

Toyota Recalls Prius, Lexus HS250 h Hybrids

It's official. Toyota is recalling a total of 148,500 hybrid vehicles in the U.S...133,000 2010 Toyota Prius models and 14,500 of the new Lexus HS250h...to update software in the cars' anti-lock brake systems.


Buick LaCrosse Review

Attitude is not an attribute one has associated with Buick for more than 20 years...since the hot Grand National models.

But Buick has decided to get in your face with its message about the new LaCrosse...with billboards and TV ads calling it "Something else for Lexus to relentlessly pursue."


Toyota Dealers Pull Ads From ABC Affiliates

(Disclosure: My full-time job is with an ABC television affiliate not affected by the story below. If the target had been CBS, NBC, FOX or any other network, group or individual station, this post would still be here, just with different network or station call letters)

Just as the news began to turn good for Toyota ( the resumption of sales of models sidelined since the gas pedal recall was announced, the company's cooperation with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak on his Prius, six North  American plants getting back to work building Toyotas for sale), Southeast Toyota, a group representing 173 Toyota dealers in five southeastern states, has pulled its advertising from ABC television affiliates in that region.

At issue, investigative reporter Brian Ross' coverage of Toyota's recalls and complaints from Toyota owners and consumer safety advocates.

What's especially troubling is that Southeast Toyota gives its reason as "excessive stories on the Toyota issues".

Note that they didn't say inaccurate, biased, false, or misleading stories. Just that there were too many of them. 

Mazda 3 Sport Review

If we're all headed for compact cars (um...Mr. President, a follow-up question?), then this is the way to go.

Early and/or thorough TireKicker readers will remember I gave the last-gen Mazda 3 a glowing review in one of the first TireKicker posts. Every word still applies, but the 2010 Mazda 3 is a game-changer.

I get the same feeling from the new 3 that I got when I got behind the wheel of my 1984 Honda Civic...and I wasn't alone then. Jean Lindamood of Car and Driver (now Jean Jennings of Automobile) ended her review thusly:

"Damn, she's a fine one. Our orders are in."

It inspired me to take a test drive that led to a 14-year ownership of said Civic.


Ford Taurus Review

If there's a feeling I hate as much as any other, it's being too late. Getting to the party after all the fun's been had.

When I was a kid, a big Ford, optioned properly, was a cool grownup's car (think red Galaxie 500 XL hardtop or convertible with knock-offs and a big V8...or better yet, just look at the picture above).

By the time I got my license (a mere decade later), big Fords were grandma's cars. In fact, the only person I knew who owned one was my friend Sara's grandma.

And from there, they devolved into service animals. If you've hailed a cab or been pulled over by the police in the last 25 years, odds are it was a big Ford Crown Victoria.

So what, you ask? Well, the Crown Vic is on its way out. Available only as a fleet vehicle now, it'll be unavailable, period in a year or less. And it's here that paths of opportunity cross.

Ford's been trying to rehabilitate the Taurus nameplate since Alan Mullaly took over a few years ago and ordered the well-built, competent but bland Five Hundred rebadged as a Taurus. Here's the chance. Make the Taurus a little bigger and a lot better, and there's a vehicle worthy of being considered Ford's flagship.


Los Angeles Times Review: Prius Problems Beyond Brakes, Go Back 10 Years

In this morning's editions, The Los Angeles Times says its review of safety records shows complaints about various electrical components in the Toyota Prius including engine shutdowns while at speed and dual headlamp failures dating back to 2001.

Akio Toyoda Apologizes


In a news conference early Friday, Toyota President Akio Toyoda apologized for his company's global recalls and said he will head up a special committee to improve quality control.

Toyoda also said the automaker is still deciding what to do to fix braking problems with the 2010 Prius. Japan's Nikkei newspaper reported yesterday that officials had told them there would be a recall in Japan and the U.S. of more than a quarter-million vehicles.

Porsche Cayenne GTS Review

Purists howled at the thought of a Porsche SUV, but Porsche built it anyway.

That was 2003, and people bought 'em...enough to make Porsche the world's most profitable car company (at least until the whole economy went sideways).

That's right. There are now seven model years' worth of the Porsche Cayenne in various trim and power levels on the streets. The GTS is the latest.

The story has pretty much been one of refinement over that time. The basics are the same...this is essentially the same basic vehicle as the Volkswagen Touraeg and Audi Q7...just Porsche-ized.

And the Porsche bits definitely transform this machine...which is heavy and can be ponderous in VW and Audi versions (especially the ones with the big engines)...into a very fast, reasonably good handling vehicle.

Fast first. The GTS has a 405 horsepower 4.8 liter V8. That actually is in the middle of the available power for the Cayenne (the base version has 290 horsepower, the S 385, the S Transsyberia the same 405 as the GTS, the Turbo 500 and the Turbo S 550). That's good for 0-60 times of 5.7 seconds.

This, by the way, is a Porsche engine...not shared with the Touraeg or the Q7. It's an aluminum alloy block and cylinder heads with a resonance induction intake manifold, 4 overhead cams, 4 valves per cylinder, variable valve inlet timing and an integrated dry sump lubrication system.

The wheels are 21 inches. The brakes (works of art themselves) are 13.8.

Our version had the 6-speed Tiptronic S (an automatic that can be shifted manually by buttons on the steering wheel).

The interior is a pleasant place to do business...with high quality materials, supportive seats and the usual Porsche layout (ignition to the left of the steering wheel).

So what's it cost? Well, a lot. Base price for the GTS Tiptronic is $74,600. The tester I drove for a week added a black leather interior with alcantra inserts ($3,170), Bi-Xenon headlamps with washers ($1,560) PCM with navigation ($3,300), heated front seats ($690), a Light Comfort Package with memory ($610), XM Satellite Radio ($750), Universal Audio Interface ($440), floor mats ($140), a trailer hitch with wiring harness ($630), a moonroof ($1,190), Bose Surround Sound ($1,690) and a Bluetooth interface ($695).

Add on the $975 delivery charge and you have:


Hey, these were never for everybody, anyway. And in this economy, you can't make a value argument for a 3-ton SUV with a top speed of 157 miles per hour and an EPA estimated mileage of 13 city/18 highway (and I averaged out at 11.5 for the week). At these prices, at this point in history, it comes down to this: If you have the money and you want one, you can buy it.

And you may want to hustle a bit...we're approaching the end of generation one...a new Cayenne is set to debut in May.