Bigger Than Average: Check Out This Owner's Manual

Lexus RX Manual 015

Pop quiz: What weighs 5 pounds, is twice as long as the King James Bible and can be yours for about $51,000? It is indeed a special book, but you won't find it at any rare bookstore: It's the owner's manual for the 2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport.

A recent sampling of Lexus' latest take on a sporty crossover (comfortable, well appointed, attractive, but with artificially heavy "sport" steering and throttle response that's far too aggressive) revealed a surprise when I opened the glove box. Inside was the most massive owner's manual I've ever seen, taking up nearly half of the available space. Stuffed into a leather protective jacket are the owner's manual, navigation system manual, lemon law guide and a "quick start" booklet.

By Aaron Bragman | May 1, 2013 | Comments (4)

Can Chrysler Compete Until New Models Arrive?

Dodgehornetconcept

Yesterday, stories swarmed the internet that Chrysler would introduce anywhere from seven to 10 new models by 2010. Since we have the automaker’s entire 2009 lineup already announced, we know there will only be one or two that could be considered new for this year: the Challenger and the Ram pickup. The other five to seven models, however, aren’t known to most industry insiders.

With sales dropping for the Chrysler Group more significantly than any other automaker in today’s troubled economy — they’re down 24% for the year, while GM and Ford are down 18% and 15%, respectively —  we wonder if the company can survive the rest of 2008 and all of 2009 without anything new to offer. 

By David Thomas | September 11, 2008 | Comments (7)

Do We Need a Stopgap Fuel?

E85

It’s becoming clear that energy and energy independence — you have to love that term — will be a major focus of the upcoming presidential election. While most of us are sick of the dog-and-pony shows and pundits of the past few weeks, we are also sick of the all too-easily dismissed ease of both parties’ energy policies.

Do we drill more? Do we import less? Do we use ethanol? Should all cars be flex-fuel?

There are two end goals, it seems: independence from foreign oil and eventually independence from non-renewable fuels.

I’m going to try and tackle just the first one today, and in doing so I think it might become clear that ethanol and natural gas are stopgap fuels that we just don’t need to become energy independent.

The reason I got to thinking about this was the upcoming Senate bill that would require every car to be flex-fuel — to the layman, that means capable of running on both gasoline and ethanol E85. It seems everyone is ethanol-crazy and doesn’t understand that there is very little infrastructure to support massive ethanol use nationwide; there are 1,500 E85 pumps in the U.S., versus 167,000 gas stations. Adding thousands of new pumps will be expensive. E85 is also less efficient, and while it emits less carbon monoxide and other toxins than gasoline, it produces more of other types of toxins. My thinking is we don’t even need it. My alternative? It’s not a new one: We go all-hybrid, and fast. And guess what? If we do, we don’t need to import any more oil from OPEC.   

By David Thomas | September 8, 2008 | Comments (17)

Pontiac Could Save GM

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Today, the Wall Street Journal ran a story stating that GM could shutter many of its brands, not just Hummer, which the company has already publicly said is up for sale or closure because of tough economic times. The only two “safe” brands, the article states, are Chevrolet and Cadillac. Buick, GMC, Pontiac, Saturn and Saab are all up for discussion, meaning sale or the chopping block. It’s obviously too early to tell what will happen, but we can still speculate.

By David Thomas | July 7, 2008 | Comments (34)

McCain Hype: $300 Million for Better Batteries

Mccain

In our never-ending quest to dissect the hype consumers are bombarded with by the mainstream media, today we take on presidential nominee John McCain’s proposal to give a $300 million prize to anyone who can develop a “battery package that has the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars."

What’s the problem with that? There are no commercial plug-in electric or fully electric vehicles on the market today, and there won’t be until 2010 if you listen to GM and Toyota, the two automakers with the firmest plans in place. 

Yes, there are niche electric-car manufacturers out there, like Tesla, but is that really what the senator from Arizona is talking about?

He also proposes a $5,000 tax credit on zero-emission cars. The only cars with zero emissions are all-electric or hydrogen, and neither type is close to mass production.

How about $300 million in tax breaks to get battery firms to start manufacturing in the U.S.? The one thing keeping hybrids in limited supply and at high prices here is the availability of the expensive batteries they need in order to run.

Sorry, that’s just us babbling. Go back to the never-ending blathering from both candidates that won’t end up impacting actual consumers.

McCain's $300M lure for new, 'green' car battery sparks buzz (USA Today)

By David Thomas | June 24, 2008 | Comments (26)

New Ford Focus a Surprise Success

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I’ll admit it: I did not think the redesigned Ford Focus would be a huge success. I mean, just look at it. There are some interesting angles, especially on the sedan, but come on, the coupe? It’s a dog. My old Escort had better lines.

Still, in our current economic surroundings the little economy car with a small price tag and high mpg is doing well. How well? The plant where it’s built in Wayne, Mich. is ramping up to produce 30% more Focus this year.

I reviewed the new Focus in November and thought the interior was well done. The Sync entertainment system is a genius idea actually implemented properly. Still, the Honda Civic is a far better choice, not to mention the other solid competition from Toyota, Hyundai and Mazda.

In any case, the Focus just passed the Chevy Cobalt in sales last month. Now there’s a car I’m even more shocked to see selling well — tepid economy or no.

Ford to build 30% more of its Focus small cars this year (USA Today)

By David Thomas | April 16, 2008 | Comments (24)

Ford Not Targeting Families With Flex Ads

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Ford’s answer to the minivan will not be directly marketed to families, according to a story by Automotive News. The company’s new head of marketing, Jim Farley — previously of the trendiest of trend-setting brands, Scion — has revamped the marketing plan of this very important new model to focus on trendsetters instead of just the family market.

As an early example of this plan, Ford had a famous street artist decorate the white roof of the Flex in various urban themes at the recent New York auto show. Ford wants to get far away from the minivan stigma with the Flex, especially since it’s discontinued its own failed minivan, the Freestar.

It seems to me Ford should play up the minivan stigma to the hilt with the Flex.

By David Thomas | March 31, 2008 | Comments (14)

Auto Exec Predicts Jump in Car Prices

Saturnvue

Yesterday, GM chief financial officer Fritz Henderson warned that car prices could soon jump significantly due to the rising cost of materials, regulatory fees and … (wait for it) … industry restructuring. 

Henderson said that because of all the union buyouts and shuttering of plants — which the U.S. auto industry said it needed to do to stay competitive and lean — costs would rise because the industry doesn’t have the same manufacturing capacity it once did. He also blamed new technology as a reason for increased costs.

We’re simply stunned that an executive would publicly say that these forces would cause a spike in prices for consumers, in stark opposition to most of the moves domestic automakers have made in recent years to save money. For one, GM has already begun utilizing its global R&D strengths to bring in better new cars to the U.S., like the Saturn Vue and upcoming Pontiac G8. That should lower its R&D costs overall. Ford is looking to do the same with future U.S. products. 

By David Thomas | January 30, 2008 | Comments (6)

Volvo Is Upscale Enough

Volvo Interior

Sometimes we sit around the Cars.com office and just scratch our heads when we hear what car companies are doing. In yesterday’s Detroit News came word that Ford is looking to make Volvo — Ford owns the Swedish automaker — more of an upscale luxury brand to better compete with BMW and Mercedes-Benz. If you thought Volvo was already a luxury car company, it’s technically considered a near-premium brand. The differences are hard to explain, but recent Volvos I’ve reviewed were roughly $10,000 less than their BMW and Audi counterparts despite having similar features and engines. Other near-premium brands are Saab, Cadillac, Lexus and Infiniti.

Now, Ford has the best of intentions … for it. The company needs to make more money off Volvo, which continues to be unprofitable despite an improved lineup. However, with Audi already making inroads into BMW and Mercedes-Benz territory, is there room for another company to do the same?

By David Thomas | December 4, 2007 | Comments (27)

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