Are investors cashing out before the end of the year for tax reasons, or is this a vote of no confidence for Tesla? In the last month, Tesla's stock price has dropped by ~20%.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
I am sitting at the hospital bedside of my 93 year old grandmother. Rebecca was born in Russia, and survived Stalin and the Wehrmacht siege of Leningrad. Now she is fighting with her heart and her lungs, gasping and coughing to get a breath. She's a tough old lady, but I think she is getting tired.
Don't give up yet Grandma!
Don't give up yet Grandma!
This morning on Autoline Detroit, John McElroy's auto talk show, a Fiat lady stated that part of the Fiat 500's ordering experience will be calling colors by their Italian names. So red will be rose, and black will be nero. Cue the Rome burns jokes. But what I don't get is, why not call it Cinquecento then? For mist people, if you say "five hundred", they will think of a very bland large sedan from Ford.
If you're going to go Italian, go all in, that's what I say.
If you're going to go Italian, go all in, that's what I say.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Aptera has been very quiet since participating (but not finishing) in the Progressive Automotive X-Prize competition. After a very promising early start, and lots of great media coverage, Aptera went through a management shake-up, and now appears to be starving slowly. Without government loans to develop their product, or a large angel investor to come in and rescue them, they seem to be adrift.
You know it is bad when the fans, some of whom have put down actual deposits, are losing faith. Look at this poll on the unofficial Aptera forums. As of now the 68% of the responses say that they don't think they will ever get their car.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Allpar.com has some nice side-by-side photos of the refreshed 300C along with the previous design.
I like the increased windshield rake, and how they lowered the door shoulders to allow for a less slab-sided look, with a little more glass. There is a nice, slightly upward sweeping character line. From the side, it looks a little more like a Cadillac (not a bad thing), while the front is distinctly Chrysler.
The interior is much nicer looking as well.
In my opinion, this is a good redesign of Chrysler's flagship.
Where Chrysler will be challenged for a while yet is in the powertrain department. The new Phoenix V6 will bring much needed refinement and better fuel economy, but the rumor at Allpar is that the 300C will probably launch with a Mercedes sourced 5-speed automatic transmission, when the fuel economy leaders are getting into 6 speed transmissions. Will Chrysler have the money to outsource a 6 or 7 speed auto? Consider that the closest competitor to the 300C at Ford, the Taurus, gets EPA combined 22mpg with a 6spd auto, while the Cadillac STS gets 21mpg combined, also with a 6 speed auto. Toyota's Avalon gets 23mpg from a 6 speed.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the trade group that represents most of the OEMs operating in the U.S., has joined the lawsuit originally filed by other organisations to try to block the E15 waiver that the EPA is granting for newer vehicles. Detroit News story here.
The E15 waiver is a half-baked idea. It should only be issued when it is determined that the vast majority (say, 95%) of cars on the road today can safely operate with E15. Otherwise, consumer confusion will ensue, and the result will be that no gas station will want to carry the stuff. If the data isn't there yet then the EPA should wait until the data is in.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
In my previous post, I reviewed the experience of buying tires at Pep Boys.*
The tires that were chosen were Definity Dakota H/T, which are a highway tread light truck/SUV tire. The Definity line is a store-brand of Pep Boys, manufactured by Cooper Tire. Cooper also makes Avon, Mastercraft, and Starfire branded tires. The Dakotas are also available in offroad (M/T) and all terrain (A/T) tread patterns.
These tires have a 520 treadwear rating (very good), A traction (good) and B (decent) temperature rating. They come with a 60,000mi tread life warranty.
And they're even Made In The U.S.A., not Chinese rubber here.
Consumer Reports did not review Definity Dakotas, but they did review Cooper's Discovery SUV tires, and gave them a good rating, particularly for dry handling, hydroplaning, and noise.
The new Dakotas were a marked improvement over the worn Kelly tires that were previously mounted on Anne's Escape. We noticed the difference right away, the Escape rode much quieter and a bit softer than it had on the old tires. "Wow, this is like a new car!", said a very happy Anne.
Wet braking and handling on snow seemed good, definitely better than the old tires. The highway tread still seemed to have plenty of bite to get going in the snowy and icy road conditions that prevail in Michigan now.
Overall, I would say that the Definity Dakota tires are a good tire, and are quite good for the money. Pep Boys is currently charging $120/tire for them, with the 4th tire free, though this does not include balancing and tire stems. If I was in the market for inexpensive all season SUV tires, I would definitely consider Dakota H/T.
- Good wet/snow grip
- Soft ride
- Made in USA
- Balancing, stems cost extra
- 4th tire free deal is a prepaid Visa rebate, not cash back at sale
*Disclosure: Pep Boys provided a free set of Definity tires to my friend in exchange for this review. The blogger was not compensated.
I was recently contacted by a Pep Boys representative who wanted me to review their eServe service reservation system, and their Definity tires. I didn't need tires at the time, but I knew young mother of 2, Anne L,, who could use some new tires. In this post I'll review the service experience, and in my next one I'll talk about the tires.*
Pep Boys has locations all over the Midwest, East coast, and a few on the Southern West coast. They are a discount auto parts store, similar to other large chains such as Autozone and the Midwest's O'Reilly's. They also offer repair services.
Unlike other local chains, Pep Boys has a nice online
apppointment scheduling system they call eServe. By
going to Pepboys.com and filling out a relatively short form, you can set up an appointment in a 1 hour slot in the coming days or weeks.
Anne set up an appointment for tire service online. It was fairly easy. First, you identify the vehicle being serviced, in this case a Ford Escape with worn out tires. Then you pick a service slot, in one hour blocks. On the next screen you select what general type of service you need, in this case, tire service.
A neat feature in the eServe system is that you can have it text message you a reminder of your appointment time, as well as email.
After setting the appointment information, you get a reservation number, which you can print out and take with you on the day of your appointment.
On the day of Anne's appointment, your blogger tagged along to observe the process.
The service area was buzzing with customers, as a big snow storm had just hammered the Northern Midwest, and people were rushing to get their vehicles set for winter, or repaired after slogging through the nasty weather.
The Pep Boys employee who check Anne in was friendly and efficient. He logged her information, and said that while they are quite busy, we should be able to get out in about an hour. Since she was there for tires, he took her to the tire display and took several minutes to explain the difference between the different types of tires. I listened in, and I think he did a accurate job.
He explained that the Dakota SUV tires, the appropriate product for a Ford Escape, came in 3 tread styles: M/T (mud), A/T (all terrain), and H/T (highway). He correctly
explained that the more aggressive treads are better for offroad and better in deep snow, but come with a penalty of more noise and worse fuel economy on smooth roads. Since Anne didn't do much offroading, she opted for the quietest rolling tread, the Dakota
Anne was offered road hazard insurance, at $15/tire, and after having torn up tires on Michigan's infamous winter potholes, she agreed.
Anne gave Pep Boys points for correctly following her instructions to mount the tires with the white letters facing in, something that her last tire provide had not done.
She was also offered a $75 four wheel alignment, which I recommended that she accept, because an occasinoal alignment is imortant to keep your tires wearing evenly.
We went to wait in the small waiting room, which had about 8 seats arranged around TV and a pile of dog-eared magazines. I wasn't impressed much with the waiting area, it had no real isolation from the noise of the store. In the modern era, free wi-fi is a must, but it was not offered. Many dealerships and other service shops also offer complimentary coffee, or some basic kids activities such as coloring books; neither was available here.
The service manager stopped by and offered to adjust the TV, if anyone wanted a different channel, which was nice.
After some time, the service manager came buy with a yellow service sheet, which had comments from the mechanic. Now began the age old game, the up-sell. "So we found a few things we thought you might want to know about...", he began. Anne's battery terminals were corroded, would she like the $5.99 battery recondition service, which would clean up an seal her battery terminals? Anne said sure, it was inexpensive. He offered to load test the battery, also, and Anne agreed.
A few minutes later, the service manager returned with more problems. "Your
battery isn't doing great on the load test, we only
got 260 cranking amps out of rated 600, do you want us to replace the battery?". Since Anne did not have any problems starting her car, even in frigid winter temperatures, I told her it was not critical to do it right then (and I hinted that changing a battery was a very easy DIY project). She declined the battery.
In addition to the battery, the service manager offered her transmission fluid flush, coolant service, an oil change, and new shocks. All were offered based on the mileage of the vehicle, but he admitted that all of these components "looked OK". Anne declined the extra service.
The tire replacement itself took a little longer than expected because of some corrosion on the
aluminum wheel bead areas. The service manager carried a dismounted wheel into the waiting area to show Anne, and said that it should
be OK, but that he was going to have to clean up the corrosion by grinding it off, and that he may need to put some bead sealer on the wheels.
Anne appreciated the service bay window, which allows curious customers to peek into the service area and watch what is going on with their vehicle.
When it looked like Anne was going to be late for an evening appointment, the service manager pitched in to help change tires and get Anne out the door on time.
After 1 1/2 hours, the service was completed, and we rolled out with nice new Dakota H/T's on Anne's old Escape, and clean battery terminals.
Pep Boys also passed another test of mine: they inflated the tires to the proper pressure. Some shops hire boneheads who think you are supposed to inflate the tires to their max sidewall rating, rather than what it says on the vehicle's door sticker. This has happened to me more than once.
The Dakota H/T's were a decent deal, with "buy 3 4th tire free", coming in at $119 x 3 or $357. However, Pep Boys charges extra for wheel balancing and "tire handling", so the actual charges were as follows:
Tire Mounting $0.0/ea
Tire Handling $2.50/ea $10.00 total
Wheel Balance $12.99/ea $51.96
Road Hazard $14.57/ea $58.28
Valve Stem $3.49/ea $13.96
These charges increased the cost of the tires to a pre-tax out-the-door price of $491/4, or about $123/ea., not including alignment. In general, I think it is better to have "out-the-door" pricing on tires, where the price includes everything needed to mount and balance the tires. Also, you should know that the 4th tire free is actually a rebate in the form of a prepaid Visa card, not cash back at time of service. Adding shop and other fees on separately feels tricky, because it allows stores to advertise apparently very low tire prices, but you are in fact only shopping the tire itself, not the whole service.
I think that Pep Boys is a decent place to get tires and other basic service done, though I can't judge on more serious repairs. They were courteous, efficient, and happy to explain their service to customers. They were thorough with their up-sell, offering many other services in addition to the originally requested items, but they were not push and took "no thanks" without drama. Most places you go for service will try to sell you additional service if they see an opportunity, and Pep Boys did not attempt the dreaded fluid-color ploy ("Look how dirty your coolant is compared to this shiny new coolant!"). I would prefer a single "out-the-door" price advertised on the tires.
- eServe reservation system easy to use
- Efficient, courteous service
- Followed customer tire mounting instructions
- Tires choices well explained
- Tires were reasonably priced
- 4th tire free promotion is a good deal
- Service up-sell was not obnoxious, some of it was justified
- Very basic waiting area; no free wi-fi or coffee
- Several attempts to up-sell service
- Advertised tire pricing leaves out required fees and parts
- 4th tire free promotion uses a prepaid Visa card, not cash at time of service
*Disclosure: Pep Boys did not compensate me for this review, however, they did give a friend of mine a free set of new tires plus installation.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Congratulations to Charles and his brother, who found both prizes this afternoon, Dec. 20th.
My family has been big into geocaching for years, so after seeing your blog entry, my brother and I swung by birmingham this afternoon. Perfect timing, as my car needs a new battery, pads and rotors, and a few other regular maintenance type odds and ends. Thanks Auto Prophet and Pep Boys!-Charles (Auto aficionado and NRA Life Member)
Thanks to Pep Boys, who donated some gift cards, I am very happy to kick off this year's Autoprophet Geocache Challenge!
I have hidden two groups of Pep Boys gift cards in a much-loved part of Birmingham. Prize
#1 is 3 $50 gift cards, for a total of $150. Prize #2 is 2 $50 gift cards, for $100. The gift cards are hidden in gaily spray painted clear plastic soup containers. If you find both prizes, you win yourself a total of $250 to spend at Pep Boys, right before Christmas. What can you get at Pep Boys for $250? Besides tires, parts, oil, etc.?
*Disclosure: Pep Boys donated gift cards for this contest, the blogger did not receive any compensation.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Monday, December 13, 2010
Monday, December 06, 2010
Car And Driver, my favorite car enthusiast magazine, has an nice one-page article in this month's issue summarizing graphically the top 10 recalls of 2010. Leading the pack was Toyota, with 5 of the top 10 recalls. Second was GM, with 2, and Honda with 2. Nissan had 1 recall in the top 10.
Congratulations to Ford, Chrysler, VW, and Hyundai for not making this top 10 list.
I went with the kids to see Tangled over the weekend. It was excellent, probably the best non-Pixar Disney movie in recent history.
I experienced 3D for the first time, and had mixed feelings. On one hand, it worked very well in many scenes. It seemed to break down a bit when the effect was used to try to make objects look very close to the audience. And the 3D version of the Justin Bieber biopic preview... ugh, nauseating.
It was neat. Maybe even worth an extra $3, for the right movie. But not for Justin Bieber.
Friday, December 03, 2010
There is a rumor that Honda is going to announce the end of the Element, the quirky 3 1/2 door bread van, likely due to slow sales. It's too bad, I was impressed with Honda for bringing out such a quirky and utilitarian vehicle, which was basically a large box on wheels. The Element, though much larger than the Scion xB and Nissan Cube, paved the way for the quirky little box cars.
I'm not sure what Honda is thinking lately, in terms of design. Some of its designs are unique and interesting, like the now aging Civic, or the new CR-Z. But Honda has been flirting too much with ugly, witness Acura's ugly chrome mug, or the bizarre Odyssey lightning bolt zig-zag belt line.
Thursday, December 02, 2010
IIHS, the organization that is funded by the auto insurance industry, issued a report about continuing poor comparability between small SUV and car bumpers. You can read it here.
The bottom line is, automakers have not yet redesigned their small SUVs to have bumper heights that are compatible with their cars. The result is expensive low speed collisions between small SUVs and cars, which necessarily drive up insurance costs to the consumer.