Running On Empty: L.A. Without Cars

Running on Empty from Ross Ching on Vimeo.

As you head for a holiday weekend filled with congested streets, highways and parking lots, we leave you with this glimpse of my hometown, the City of Angels...in a world without gas. The only cars you'll see are parked on the street. It's called Running on Empty, it's by Ross Ching, and it's only been online a couple of days. More here.

Mercury, Dead At 71?

Bloomberg and Automotive News are reporting that Ford is getting ready to wind down the Mercury brand.

Sources say the plan will be presented to directors in July. The stats make a compelling case for euthanasia...the brand's peak sales year was 32 years ago, sales have dropped 74 percent in the last 10 years, ad spending by 88 percent in the last four, and with the 2011 demise of the Grand Marquis and Mountaineer, the brand would have only two models, the Milan and Mariner, clones of the Ford Fusion and Escape respectively.

The truth, of course, is that those were self-inflicted wounds. While Mercurys have had an on and off history of being based on supposedly lesser Fords, there was a time when FoMoCo worked to make them different, establish the argument for spending more for a Merc, and in the process, came up with some compelling and iconic vehicles (helped a bit by Hollywood and the original Mad Men):

What's Next? A Plague Of Frogs? Well, Stavros, yes.....

Debt crises, near-collapse, riots.....

Stuff's getting Biblical in Greece, where now frogs are swarming over a major highway, causing accidents, forcing closures and....well, getting squished.

My Car Ran Over Your Dog...Here's What You Owe Me

A Canadian family, mourning the loss of their dog, is being asked to pay for damage to the car that hit it.

State Farm insurance says Kim Flemming let Jake, a 12-year old yellow Labrador, out of the house without a leash...in violation of a local bylaw....and thus caused the accident.

The bill? 1732.80 Canadian...$1648.95 US dollars.

(from Breitbart)

Beach Patrol Runs Over Sunbather On Way To Help Swimmer

A bad, bad start to the holiday weekend. From WNBC-TV, New York.


First Drive: 2011 Ford Fiesta SEL Sedan


Hype is a dangerous thing in the car business. Too much advance buildup can result in a big letdown when the real car finally shows up. And the Ford Fiesta has certainly had a big advance campaign...nearly a year of special events allowing access and even seat time...none of which yours truly was able to attend.

Well, Ford has put the real deal in my care for a week...and after 24 hours and 100 miles, I'm ready to say this much: They have not over-promised.

The Fiesta is a revelation...a glimpse into how good our friends in Europe have it when it comes to small cars that aren't penalty boxes. Not only is this more than a worthy competitor for the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit and Nissan Versa, I don't see how Ford is going to sell a single Focus from now until they bring us the European version of that model.


Roomy, decent power, great gas mileage (thanks to a six-speed automatic)...and a huge trunk for its class.

Admittedly, Ford sent a loaded version of its top trim level. Being a pre-production car, the window sticker is blank where the prices go, but building one out to these specs on Ford's website produces an as-equipped price north of $19,000....and that's pricey for this class. I'll be very interested in driving lower-spec five-doors.

Meantime, six days and untold miles to go...followed by a full review right here.

You Go, Girl! 4 Foot 11 Woman Fights Off Carjacker

If that's what Rosalina Ruiz will do for an old RAV4, I'd hate to really tick her off.

God bless her.

Return Of The Hamsters: The New Kia Soul TV Commercial

When you create an award-winning ad, the impulse is to go back and do it again. Which usually works about as well as your typical Hollywood sequel. Transformers 2, say.

But this? Hit. Massive home run hit. It begins airing tomorrow (Friday, May 28). But you can start burning it into your brain now.

And if you want to indulge your inner hamster, you could start by dressing like them. Go here.

UK Lorry Driver Keeps License After Pushing Car Sideways Down Highway

Remember that video? Big stuff all over the internet earlier this year.

Well, the wheels of justice turn quickly in the UK...driver John Tomlinson has appeared before a traffic commissioner, pleaded his case (that he couldn't see, hear or smell the Renault Clio attached to his front bumper) and has been allowed to keep his license.

In fact, traffic commissioner Beverley Bell praised Tomlinson for his fast action and cool head. You don't see it in the video, but other drivers signaled him to pull over, he discovered the Clio on his bumper, and freed driver Rhona Jane Williams.

Commissioner Bell urged companies to retrofit older lorries (trucks to us Yanks)with the kind of proximity mirrors now standard on newer models.


This Is How Fiat Sells Cars In Europe. We'd Recommend A New Agency Stateside.

Though this does kinda explain that "kittens" minivan spot for the Dodge Caravan...

Highway Sign Hacking Hits Miami

You might remember a rash of highway message sign hacking a few months ago,warning of zombies in Austin, Texas and Collinsville, Illinois and of raptors (the prehistoric birds, not the Ford pickup).

Well, now the message is getting racist, or political, or both. Early morning drivers on Palmetto in Miami ran across the above sign and the highway department had to come out and turn it off. Except it kept rebooting. Authorities finally had to turn the sign away from drivers while they worked to erase the memory.

Highway Technologies of Illinois owns the sign and is renting it to the highway department. They say they're using "all their resources to find out how the sign was hacked and who did it."

The likely charge, vandalism. Though someone will undoubtedly try to build a hate crimes charge in there, too.

Nice Work, Einstein. University Sues GM Over Use Of Dead Genius' Likeness

The above image is page one of a four-page ad that ran in People magazine last fall to promote the GMC Terrain SUV.

Well, as Rolling Stone once famously said about Jim Morrison of The Doors,

But in Einstein's case "dead" doesn't mean "he can't sue us from beyond the grave". For while Einstein didn't will his body to science (there's dispute whether his brain was preserved against his wishes) and was cremated, Einstein did leave his publicity rights to The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which is suing GM for the unauthorized use of Einstein's image.

General Motors...even the new, smaller, GM, should have a legal staff that knows (or at least can learn) this stuff. The only upside for them? The university is going easy on them. The suit is for $75,000...a little less than two loaded GMC Terrains.

Nissan Goes DIY For EV Leaf; Building Battery Plant Next Door To Assembly Line

One day after Nissan's announcement that the 2011 Nissan Leaf electric vehicle is sold out, the carmaker broke ground on its own battery plant next door to the Leaf assembly line in Smyrna, Tennessee.

Opening day isn't until 2012, but when the plant does debut, it will be able to build 200,000 lithium-ion battery packs a year...meaning CEO Carlos Ghosn's plan to build 150,000 Leafs a year won't be done in by outside supplier issues.

All told, batteries and cars, Nissan's investing $1.7 billion in Leaf production ($1.4 million billion of that comes from a U.S. government loan), which, if production hits the levels Ghosn predicts, will create 1,300  new jobs.

The TireKicker take? Good for Ghosn. Critical ventures are all too often undone or kept from realizing their potential by weak links in the chain. Outsourcing production of components has also made some manufacturers feel less responsible about the final product., giving them a convenient third party to whom to point the finger of blame. Let's hope this starts a trend toward more auto manufacturers putting their names on and their resources behind more of their product.

NHTSA: 89 Dead In Toyota Unintended Acceleration Incidents

NHTSA's keeping a body count on people killed in Toyotas that supposedly experienced unintended acceleration...and the number is now 89. That's from 2000 to 2009 and jumps from the 52 reported earleir this year.

No, they're not new deaths...again, the cutoff is 2009...they're deaths that the feds think maybe had something to do with Toyotas roaring off on their own.

The Washington Post has the full story, but the Cliff's Notes are these:

  • Toyota can't find an electronic problem causing the cars to accelerate.

  • The Feds are insisting that they do.

  • NHTSA wants desperately to look tough and on top of the issue. Or as Mel Brooks said in Blazing Saddles,

The elephant in the room...that NHTSA doesn't want to talk about for fear of looking less than agressive and Toyota's tip-toeing around because it's bad PR, even if it's the truth?

And, as my Memo From Michael April 17 shows, none of the highly publicized incidents this year have done anything to disprove that or to even suggest an electronics issue.

Between NHTSA's agenda above, Toyota's fear of insulting consumers (Audi told the truth in the mid-80s and it very nearly put them out of business in America) and the mainstream media's breathless acceptance of every every claim of  "my car tried to kill me" (followed by far less urgent follow-ups reporting driver error), it will be a a long time before most Americans figure out what's happening.


VIDEO: 911 Call From Crash Victim; Help Takes Two Days To Arrive

Your car goes off a highway down a ravine, out of sight of traffic. Your cell phone works and you call 9-1-1.

But...GPS only narrows your call down to the nearest cell tower and the Highway Patrol can't see the wreckage from the road.

Betcha think they'll launch a chopper, given the terrain and what's at stake.

But watch this video and you'll hear the Arizona Department of Public Safety say they can't and won't do that.

And so the man on the phone and his young son died waiting for help to arrive....their bodies found when it became a "missing persons" case two days later and the helicopter finally went up.

Story from ABC15 (KNXV-TV, Phoenix...my day job).


VIDEO: Renowned Teen Mountain Climber Cited For "Street Surfing" In Malibu

His name is Johnny Strange, and he's the youngest person to climb the highest peak on all seven continents.

This is a bit of a comedown.

"I guess I was being stupid" Strange told police. Watch the video from KTLA, Los Angeles here.

LISTEN LIVE: Ford Shareholders Meeting

Be a fly on the wall. Here's the link to live streaming audio from the Ford shareholders' meeting. Should last until 11 AM EDT/8 AM PDT.


Nissan Cube SL Review

It's been nine months since our last drive in a Nissan Cube...and we've learned one thing. With this vehicle, a lot depends on how you equip it.

Last time around, it was a very sparsely equipped base model. This time around, Nissan sent the SL ($17,130), which gets you interior upgrades, a nice AM/FM/CD/mp3 audio system with 8 speakers, Bluetooth and premium grade seat fabric. Makes a huge difference.


And Nissan went even further...the SL Preferred Package ($1800) brought Nissan Intelligent Key, a pushbutton ignition, a further upgrade to the audio system with a color display and USB connectivity, six upgraded speakers with a Rockford Fosgate woofer, XM satellite radio, a rearview camera, and fog lights.

The Ginormous Package (really...$2500) added an Aero kit, 20-color interior accent lighting, illuminated stainless steel kick plates, a custom grille, hood molding accent, chrome front fascia accent, cargo area protector and an 8-piece interior trim applique set that goes around the HVAC vents other spots on the dash with a faux carbon fiber look.

And, for $250, the Interior Designer Package gets the carpeted floormats, carpeted cargo area mat, shag dash topper and front door bungees (for securing plush traveling companions, don't you know).

Oh, yeah...and $100 for a vehicle alarm impact sensor.

That and destination charges get you to $22,330. Which is a lot of money for a car that competes primarily in the $15-18K segment with the Kia Soul and Scion xB.  But it was very, very likeable. To the point that both my wife and daughter were talking about how they'd be perfectly fine with one of these (hint, hint).

I will say that it is enormously comfortable (aided by the better fabrics), far roomier and more cargo-capable than you'd expect, and peppier (there is no better word) than the continuously variable transmission mated to an engine with a 122 horsepower rating would have you believe. But the value equation at 22 and change is a hard sell...at least to me.

EPA estimates: 27 city/31 highway.

New Mexico: Accidents Up Since Photo Radar. Las Cruces: So What?

New Mexico is the latest state to tell photo radar company Redflex to pack its stuff and get out...after seeing a 13% increase in crashes since the speed and red light camera program began.

End of discussion? Nope. The city of Las Cruces is trying to find a workaround...so they can get the $5 million plus in revenue those unmanned enforcement tickets rein in.

When Fans Go Berserk

Hey, we love Top Gear as much as the next guy...but this UK family spots Clarkson, May, et al on the road, speeds up, brings out the video camera and...well...let's just say you HAVE to watch this...make sure the sound is on...and the next time your kids are embarrassed by you, show them just how much worse it could be:

Dodge's New Minivan Commercial

I'd have kittens if I were a Dodge exec and the ad agency brought me this.  Yeah, I know they're swimming upstream with Toyota's "Swagger Wagon" spot for the Sienna:

And even, for that matter, the "punch dub" spot VW managed to whip up for its really-a-dodge-caravan Routan:

But dear Lord....some spots just shouldn't get past the storyboard stage...and sorry, Dodge...you've got one right now.

What's Better: "Leadership" or "Excellence"?

GM's ditched its logo from the flanks of its cars and from its advertising. And though you'd have to be of a certain age to recall,  it was once associated with a slogan: "GM. Mark of Excellence".

Well, now Cadillac has put distance between itself and GM in its advertising, yet somehow comes up with a tag line that's derivative of the "Mark of Excellence".

Which begs the question: When spending $40-50K for a midsize luxury sport sedan, do you want "leadership" or "excellence"?  My take: Excellence, thank you very much. And Cadillac's old positioner "Standard of the World" strikes me as promising more of what they need to build if they intend to actually play in BMW, Audi and Mercedes' ballgame.

Oh...and there's this: A big hat tip to Peter DeLorenzo at Autoextremist, who points out that the new Cadillac ads are from the same agency that did this Jaguar spot. See if you can spot the similarities.

On second thought, try to find some differences. It'll take less time.

VIDEO: Man Saves Son From Car By Using Own Body As Shield

And that child will always be able to say his dad's his hero.

Ford Firm On Flex Future

Okay, that headline is either an audition for a gig at Daily Variety or a desperate cry for help.

But that's not important now.

The Ford Flex was supposed to be The Answer. The way forward from minivans. In fact, Ford stopped making its Freestar minivan and the Taurus X crossover in the belief that the Flex would deliver those (few) customers and a bunch more.

Hasn't happened.

Days go by...sometimes weeks...before I see a Flex on the streets of the car-crazy metropolis of four million souls in which I live and drive, a place where you'd die of internal bleeding if there were a "punch dub" game for minivans, Tahoes and even Suburbans.

Only 12,598 Flexes left dealerships for driveways and garages in the first four months of this year...which puts it on track to do less than 40,000 units sold in 2010. Not the stuff of which hits are made.

Still, Ford says it's happy. Why? They told the Detroit Free Press.

GM May Buy Back GMAC

As General Motors claws its way back to solvency, it's remembered the good old days when a chunk of the money that literally flowed through its hallways came from its captive financing arm, the General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC). So it's thinking about buying it back.

But it's complicated. For one thing, the new owners re-named it two days ago:

For another, the US government owns a chunk of both GM and Ally, oversaw the divestiture, and would have to approve the re-marriage.

For another, most of Chrysler's in-house financing comes through GMAC...er...Ally.

Like we said...it's complicated. As most potential gigabuck enterprises are. The Detroit News has the details.

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Pricing

The first of what's being described as a new product "avalanche" (though that's a Chevy, isn't it?) from Chrysler hits dealers next month and they're ready to talk price.

The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee will start at $30,995 (including destination charges). That's for the Laredo 2 wheel drive model, and it's $495 lower than the entry-level price on the '10.

The Laredo 4x4 is $32,995. Next step up is the Limited 2wd at $37,495, Limited 4x4 at $39,995 and top of the line is the new Overland 2wd at $39,495...$42,995 for the 4x4.

Given that it'll be fairly easy with options to run an AWD Overland past the 50 large mark, there will be a $20,000 range of prices on the new Grand Cherokee.

Missing in action, at least for now, the Grand Cherokee SRT-8.  Engine choices are a 290 horsepower V6 and a 360 horsepower 5.7 liter V8.

Obama: Amendment Encourages "Deceptive Practices" By Car Dealers

President Barack Obama spoke out Wednesday (5/12) against an amendment to the financial regulation bill that would exempt car dealers from oversight.

The amendment, from Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), the president said, "encourages misleading sales tactics that hurt American consumers."

Full story from Automotive News (free registration required).

Redflex Under Fire

The state of Arizona is letting its contract with the Australian photo radar camera company end on July 15. And now, an Arizona judge is blasting Redflex over its filings in preparation of a lawsuit filed by competitor ATS (American Traffic Solutions).


Taking The "D" Out Of DUI

Open for business indeed. Look for a big bump in fines now that the West Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that you don't have to prove a drunk has been driving to charge him or her with DUI.


Doesn't DUI stand for "Driving Under The Influence"?

Yes, it does...but the West Virginia Supremes say that you don't need proof, just "reasonable grounds to believe" that an intoxicated person found in a motor vehicle was operating it. 

There's no explanation of the dividing line, if any, between "reasonable grounds to believe", "circumstantial evidence" and "wild guess".

VIDEO: Consumer Reports Re-Tests, Blesses Lexus GX 460

Alright, "blessing" is too strong a term. "Lifting the curse" is probably a better way to put it. After all, a month of being labelled a "Don't Buy" by Consumer Reports is the nearest thing to a kiss of death the automobile industry knows.  But it's all better now, right?

Double Jeopardy: Feds Won't Rule Out Second Fine For Toyota

Despite levying (and receiving) a record fine from Toyota for failing to promptly report issues with sticking gas pedals, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he won't rule out additional fines for the same offense.

LaHood made those comments in Japan, with Akio Toyoda standing next to him.

Toyota paid the $16.4 million without admitting to the government's accusation, and said it did so to avoid "a protracted dispute".

But that apparently put blood in the water for the feds to smell. LaHood says by paying the fine, Toyota accepted responsiblity for the violation.


Feds Probe Dodge Caliber Gas Pedal Problem

NHTSA is looking into sticky accelerator pedals in as many as 161,000 Dodge Calibers. The supplier? The same one who supplied Toyota.

Infiniti G35 Airbag Recall

Nissan is recalling 135,000 G35 sedans (model years 2005-2006) and coupes (2005-2007) for a wire harness that could wear to a point where airbags don't deploy in a crash.


Audi R8 GT: Our Favorite Car, Faster

Sharp-eyed followers of TireKicker may have noticed that the #1 spot on TireKicker's Top 10 Cars (So Far) has never changed. Yes, we loves us the Audi R8 that much.

Well, taking out a lot of weight through lightweight construction methods does wonders for already great performance...like 0-62 in 3.6 seconds and a new top speed of 198.84 miles per hour.

Jaguar Platinum Coverage: Put Your Wallet Away, Sir

Besides hitting its stride on building some downright desirable automobiles, Jaguar's working overtime on making the ownershp experience as painless as possible.

The just-announced Jaguar Platinum Coverage features a 5 year/50,000 mile warranty (one year more than any other luxury carmaker), free scheduled maintenance during that period (fluid & filter changes, etc.)...and...free wear & tear items for 5 and 50.

That's right. Wiper blades, brake pads, rotors...the stuff nobody covers because, well...this stuff just wears out when you drive a car...Jaguar is covering. 

Plus free 24/7 roadside assistance for the 5 year/50,000 miles.  Full details here.

Avis Wants To Top Hertz Bid For Rival Dollar/Thrifty

In the 60s and 70s, Avis' advertising pitch was "We're #2...We Have To Try Harder."

Well, that's the essence of their pitch to Dollar-Thrifty, which has a deal to be bought out by #1 Hertz.  Avis says it can do better and that Dollar-Thrifty is selling itself too cheaply.