The Price of Fuel Efficiency

The Price of Fuel Efficiency

Obama administration set to raise fuel efficiency standards, but by how much?

As the first Toyota Priuses took to U.S. roads more than a decade ago and celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz touted their virtues, enthusiasts predicted that hybrid cars would quickly become mainstream. But there was a problem: They cost too much, and consumers spurned them. Last year, the vehicles represented less than 3 percent of cars and light trucks sold in the United States. Now the Obama administration is deciding how much to push U.S. drivers into fuel-efficient cars. Among the proposals under consideration is one that would lift average fuel economy under the law to as much as 62 mpg by 2025. The preeminent issue in the debate is how much the price of cars — gas, hybrids, plug-ins or whatever inventors come up with — would rise if regulations dictate such standards. On one side are automakers, which warn that the highest targets could add as much as $10,000 to the price of a new car, devastating a U.S. industry … Sales could plummet by 25 percent, they say, and 220,000 auto manufacturing jobs could be lost. Regulators “need to ensure that their standards do not result in vehicles that consumers cannot afford,” the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group, warned in a letter this week to officials. Another study, conducted at MIT, suggested that even while fuel-efficient cars might save consumers money in the long run, they are reluctant to pay for fuel efficient technology up front.

Sounds good though right? I mean what is wrong with really fuel efficient cars? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? If cars start becoming more and more fuel efficient and using less gas, do you think that Big Oil will just be fine taking a 30% pay cut over the next few years? Not likely! Watch gas prices soar as the EPA pushes gas mileage requirements! Makes you really wonder whom is paying whom what?

Visit Northwest Honda for amazing prices on new and used vehicles! www.northwesthonda.com

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With Supplies Dwindling, Some Honda Dealers Foresee Long, Dry Summer

With Supplies Dwindling, Some Honda Dealers Foresee Long, Dry Summer

Honda vehicles in Yokohama, Japan, bound for shipment.Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg NewsHonda vehicles in Yokohama, Japan, bound for shipment.

As it works to restore production capacity lost after the earthquake in Japan, Honda announced delivery delays this week of some of its most popular and fuel-efficient models built in Japan, including the Insight, the Fit and the redesigned Civic Hybrid.

Though widely anticipated by American dealers, the news came as other automakers — particularly Hyundai, Kia, Ford and General Motors — were celebrating record first-quarter profits, largely on the backs of new, compact, fuel-efficient models whose continued production and delivery through the summer is all but assured.

Honda guaranteed that March-April orders would be fulfilled for May-June deliveries. Beyond that, the brand has described its ability to fulfill orders as “fluid.” Some Honda dealers, however, are already feeling an inventory pinch.

“We knew this was coming. Most dealers around the country would tell you the same,” said Carl Bellizia, owner of Cambridge Honda in Cambridge, Mass., of this week’s announcement. “It’s an unprecedented disaster, and Honda has done a marvelous job of communicating to the dealers. And we understand they cannot make guarantees.”

While his inventory of Hondas built in Japan is dwindling, Mr. Bellizia does not feel that the laws of supply and demand justify significantly higher prices for those models. “Of course, prices will go up to some degree, but our A.D.M.U. (Additional Dealer Mark-Up) has not been above 1 or 2 percent over M.S.R.P., and we’ve even discounted some of these models if we think a customer will return to us for service or future sales.” he said. “People have long memories, and we don’t want to gouge anybody.”

 

Rick LeMaire, the general manager of Largo Honda in Florida City, Fla., foresees challenges.

“We’ll be taking a lot of vacations this summer,” he said. “We have a rather large facility — six floors, with four dedicated just to parking inventory. But we’re already walking through a lot of emptiness.”

Largo Honda hopes to compensate for the shortfall with more sales of preowned cars. “But preowned sales are dependent on trade-ins,” Mr. LeMaire noted, “and without new cars to trade in for, the customer won’t necessarily be coming to the dealership.”

The success of small cars from Korean and American manufacturers comes at the expense of sales from Japanese brands, Mr. LeMaire said, as he recalled a recent conversation with a colleague in his auto group, a Nissan dealer.

That dealer, he said, had told him that the Hyundai dealers outsold the Nissan dealers by 46 percent last month in their region.

Dealers who project good stocks of Civics — nonhybrid versions of which are assembled in North America — can at least try to convince would-be hybrid consumers of the merits of the base compact car, which is rated by the E.P.A. at 39 miles per gallon in highway driving.

“Some people who come in and want a hybrid, they want it for the fuel economy,” said a sales representative at Fletcher Jones Honda in Chicago, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity. “But the hybrids cost more, so it may take five years for somebody who doesn’t drive much to see a cost benefit.” In such cases, the customer would be steered toward a Civic, the representative said.

Keith Rey, the general manager of Marin Honda in Corte Madera, Calif., says he is operating with healthy inventories of the affected models. “I think it would be news if we were running base supplies similar to the Toyota Prius, which always runs low — 8 to 10 days worth and that’s it — but we’re not in that position at all,” he said. “We’ll be down eventually, but that’s not going to change our business model.”

“Look back to Cash for Clunkers in 2009, when everyone was running low inventories,” he said, referring to the federal program that awarded rebates to motorists who traded in their cars for new vehicles. “We’re nowhere near those levels.”

Inventory shortages of the past, however, offer a finite number of lessons for dealers trying to adjust to an unprecedented calamity.

“When you’re so removed from the devastation, it can be difficult to think beyond the situation’s impact on you,” Mr. LeMaire, the south Florida dealer, said. “But this was exceptional in every way.”

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Who Makes the Best Cars?

Who Makes the Best Cars?

 

Honda and Subaru still make the best vehicles overall, but Ford posted the largest gain in the past year, improving in its road test and reliability scores. General Motors and Volvo also improved in both areas. On the other hand, Mercedes-Benz is the only manufacturer whose scores dropped in both measures.

Our automaker report cards reflect the performance, comfort, utility, and reliability of more than 270 vehicles that we’ve recently tested. Here are other highlights from this year’s analysis:

  • Honda, Subaru, and Toyota are the top three automakers for the third year in a row. Most of their vehicles do well in our tests and are relatively trouble-free.
  • Newer GM models have performed well in our tests, but the company still fields a few lackluster cars that drag down its overall score. Reliability has improved, but it’s still not stellar.
  • Chrysler came in last, with the lowest average test score by far. But the company, now run by Italian automaker Fiat, is currently overhauling its lineup. Newer models, such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Ram have done better in our tests than older models, and we’re encouraged by our early looks at upcoming redesigns. Chrysler’s reliability needs to improve for the automaker to be competitive.
  • European cars perform well in our tests, but many have confusing controls and inconsistent reliability. Volvo is the only European make with an above-average reliability score.

Each automaker’s overall score is based on a composite of road test and predicted-reliability scores for all of its models that we’ve tested. The road tests comprise more than 50 tests we perform, covering performance, safety, fuel economy, comfort, and convenience. Reliability scores come from our Annual Auto Survey. We also show the percentage of each carmaker’s tested vehicles that we recommend. We revised our methodology this year, now giving equal weight to reliability and test scores. Previously, test scores carried more weight. So the overall scores are not directly comparable with last year. We also had insufficient data on one brand we included last year, Mitsubishi.

Asian Makes Lead the Pack
Honda, including its Acura division, has had the best reliability record of any manufacturer and has made mostly good to outstanding vehicles. The subcompact Fit, midsized Accord, and Acura MDX SUV have been at or near the top of their categories for years. In fact, no Honda product scores less than average in reliability. But some new Hondas have been unimpressive, including the CR-Z and Insight hybrids, which didn’t score well enough in our tests to be recommended. The redesigned Odyssey, still our top-ranked minivan, dropped a few points in our testing.

Subaru, which has the highest average road-test score, makes only about a half-dozen models, but almost all do well in our road tests and are reliability stalwarts. The Forester is a top-rated small SUV, and the Legacy, a good-performing sedan, has improved with each generation. Only one model, the sporty Impreza WRX, has below-average reliability.

Toyota, Lexus, and Scion models remain solid choices overall, but some newer Toyotas have slipped in interior fit and finish, with the Sienna minivan and Venza wagon being two recent examples. Two Toyotas, the subcompact Yaris and the FJ Cruiser SUV, have shown superb reliability but scored too low in our road tests for us to recommend them.

Hyundai’s overall road-test score is a bit higher than last year’s and could further improve with the impressive new models we are now testing.

Ford Rules Detroit
Ford has outpaced its crosstown rivals in reliability in recent years. In our road tests, we have been impressed by current Fords such as the Fusion, Flex SUV, and Mustang. Even the new small Fiesta drives nicely. But the Ford Escape and Edge SUVs are nothing special, the large Ford Taurus has limited visibility, and the touch-sensitive controls in some new Fords and Lincolns are difficult to use.

Newer GM vehicles such as the Buick Enclave and LaCrosse, and the Chevrolet Equinox and Traverse, have done well in our road tests and have average reliability. The new Chevrolet Cruze performed well in our tests, but reliability remains to be seen. The below-average reliability of some Cadillac and GMC models hurts the automaker’s overall score, as did subpar older models such as the Chevrolet Impala sedan, Colorado pickup, and the outgoing Aveo subcompact.

Europe Is Mixed
If front-seat comfort, fit and finish, and driving dynamics were all that counted, European cars would rule the roost. As it is, subpar reliability hounds some European brands. Volkswagen’s brand reliability has improved of late, but Audi’s spotty reliability brings the combined automaker’s score down. If the new Jetta sedan, with its low-grade interior and mediocre fuel economy, is an indication of where Volkswagen is headed, it’s going in the wrong direction. Mercedes-Benz and BMW, with below-average reliability, are near the bottom of our ranking. Their SUVs, especially, had reliability problems, according to our survey, despite being good performers. And although the BMW 1-Series has an excellent road-test score, it is hobbled by terrible reliability.

For complete Ratings and recommendations of appliances, cars & trucks, electronic gear…subscribe to access all of Consumer Reports.

Copyright® 2007-2011 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.

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Gas prices put brake on spring break for many

Gas prices put brake on spring break for many

 

Vehicles drive along the beach in Daytona Beach, Fla., on Aug. 19, 2010.

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Head to Northwest Honda or visit us online at www.northwesthonda.com for the best deals of fuel sipping new and used vehicles!

University of Iowa sophomore Jimmy Novak didn’t let $3.50-a-gallon gasoline prices keep him from making a spring break pilgrimage to Daytona Beach, Fla., with his fraternity brothers last weekend.

But the prospect of $50 fill-ups did alter his behavior: “We’re squeezing five people in a car to save money on gas, and we made a ton of sandwiches before we left instead of stopping for fast food,” says Novak. “We just told ourselves it’s going to cost a pretty penny.”

For Novak and thousands of other spring vacationers, escalating fuel prices are putting the brakes on road trips. According to the motorist group AAA, the average for a gallon of regular is up 37 cents since Feb. 22, the second-fastest rate of increase in the industry’s history.

Some would-be vacationers are staying home, while others will “still travel, but compensate by spending less,” says AAA spokesman Troy Green. According to an unscientific online poll by USA TODAY, a quarter of nearly 700 respondents said high gas prices had prompted them to cancel a spring trip, with an additional 24% traveling but staying closer to home.

And if Middle East uncertainty continues to translate into pain at the pump, the “staycation” could make a comeback: Green notes that the number of Memorial Day road trips took a nose dive in 2008 when gas prices were heading toward an all-time average high of $4.11 a gallon, set in July of that year.

For now, travel marketers remain optimistic that a trifecta of a severe winter, delayed gratification and improving economy will trump soaring gas prices. Advance bookings for March and April are up sharply at many destinations, and recent airfare increases tied to the rising cost of fuel are making road trips cheap by comparison.

Lodging reservations at the spring break hot spot Panama City, Fla., are on par with last year’s migration, which took place before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in late April, says Dan Rowe, CEO of the Panama City Convention and Visitors Bureau.

March is the city’s third-biggest tourism month after June and July, and the bureau held promotional events at several Midwestern college campuses this winter to reassure students that area beaches were clean and free of oil.

“If you spread out the incremental cost (of higher gas prices) over several days, it’s still a relatively minor part of a trip,” says Rowe. “I don’t think people are going to sacrifice a week at the beach over a few extra dollars.”

But, adds Adam Weissenberg, vice chairman of Deloitte’s tourism, hospitality and leisure sector, “If prices continue rising to $4.50 or $5 a gallon, that affects people emotionally.”

Cutting corners

For Billy and Patricia Carr, who work part time delivering vehicles for a Georgia automobile dealership, the pain is already palpable. Last week, they stopped at a suburban Atlanta station to put $5 of gas into the pickup they were dropping off. “Normally, we fill them up,” said Billy Carr, 72.

The Carrs have canceled their vacation plans for this year, forgoing their usual spring and summer trips to Florida and North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Their RV remains idle in the backyard: It costs too much to fill it up.

In California, where average gas prices are the highest in the continental USA at $3.96 per gallon, San Francisco-based Personality Hotels just launched a Get Pumped package that includes a $10 gas card for each night’s stay. Such promotions, common during the gas crisis of 2008, could proliferate across the country this year as well, says Marti Mayne of the Professional Association of Innkeepers International.

California gas prices are a particular concern in Las Vegas, which draws nearly a third of its visitors from the Golden State and saw visitor spending plummet during the recession.

“We are becoming increasingly concerned about the rapid rise in the price of gasoline,” says John Restrepo, a Las Vegas-based economist.

“In the last 12 months, gas prices in Los Angeles have surged 28%, with a 15% jump in the last 30 days alone. And now the airlines are starting to raise ticket prices because of their rising fuel costs,” Restrepo says.

“When you combine that with an annual 2% rise in food prices, the highest since 2009, none of this is exactly good news for Las Vegas’ discretionary-spending-based economy, which finally appears to be stabilizing.”

Tourist traffic has been strong at South of the Border, the iconic Interstate 95 tourist attraction and watering hole at the borders of North and South Carolina, says spokeswoman Susanne Pelt.

“But it’s frightening to think what may happen if gas prices keep going up,” she adds. “We’re just kind of waiting and seeing.”

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Japan Quake May Cut Global Auto Output by About 30%, Researcher IHS Says

What does this mean to you? Expect used car priced to sky rocket, if you are in the market, shop now! Visit www.northwesthonda.com for great used car deals!

Parts shortages caused by Japan’s record earthquake may reduce global automobile production by about 30 percent, research firm IHS Automotive said today.

If parts plants affected by the quake don’t return to operation within six weeks, global auto output may drop as much as 100,000 vehicles a day, said Michael Robinet, vice president of Lexington, Massachusetts-based IHS. The industry produces 280,000 to 300,000 vehicles daily, he said.

“Most vehicle manufacturers will be affected by this,” Robinet said in a telephone interview. “It will be very difficult for any major automaker to escape this disaster.”

About 13 percent of global auto industry production is down right now and production of about 320,000 vehicles has been lost, mostly in Japan, Robinet said.

Auto executives have refrained from forecasting lost production as their managers seek other sources for parts. If solutions aren’t found soon, most major automakers will experience disruptions by mid-April because supply networks are intertwined, Robinet said.

Automakers and parts suppliers around the globe are girding for possible shortages of key parts, especially electronics and transmission components, Robinet said. If carmakers can’t find alternate sources of parts, or if plants don’t come on line in eight weeks, as much as 40 percent of daily production may be lost, he said.

Lost Production

The third week of April could mark the start of more severe production slowdowns, IHS said. The industry may lose 1.2 million to 1.8 million vehicles by then and almost 3 million units within eight weeks, with about half of the losses coming from assembly plants outside of Japan, according to an IHS presentation.

“We could lose up to 5 million vehicles in a worst-case scenario,” Robinet said. “This will affect income for the entire year if this continues for an extended period of time.”

While the earthquake is “disruptive,” automakers aren’t likely to lose as much production as IHS’s worst-case scenario, said Jeff Liker, a University of Michigan engineering professor who studies the industry.

“It’s not the majority of parts, but rather a small number of parts that are critical,” Liker said in an interview. “There may be a part that is three levels down — an electric circuit board or something — that is needed. They will figure that out and find alternative sources.”

Honda Closings

Honda Motor Co., which today extended closings at two car- assembly factories until April 3, is one of the most exposed carmakers, Robinet said. The automaker has 110 suppliers located in the earthquake zone, and about 10 of them can’t say precisely how long it will take for them to recover, said Ed Miller, a spokesman.

Toyota Motor Corp. (7203), the world’s largest automaker, has shut down all vehicle-assembly plants in Japan until at least March 26. The company said it will resume production of three hybrid models in Japan on March 28.

General Motors Co. (GM) has idled two compact-car plants in Europe and a pickup factory in Shreveport, Louisiana, because of parts shortages. GM sent electronics parts from Shreveport to a factory in Kansas City, Kansas, where it assembles the more- profitable Chevrolet Malibu and Buick LaCrosse sedans, said two people familiar with the matter.

GM executives sent out a memo on March 18 asking employees to limit travel and expenses to only essential business. The move was a precautionary measure, said Sherrie Childers Arb, a spokeswoman.

Ford Motor Co. (F) hasn’t had any disruptions yet, said Todd Nissen, a spokesman.

Automakers can make up for one week of lost production with about six weeks of overtime, Robinet said. Japanese carmakers may not be able to make up the lost output in 2011, he said.

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Shopper Alert: Popular Japanese Car Prices Could Increase Soon!

 japanese flag

Following the recent tragic events in Japan, there is going to be a metaphorical aftershock affecting that country’s auto industry, which could send prices higher around the world. Companies like Honda, Nissan and Toyota will struggle to meet demand. Therefore the economic law of limited supply will make it more expensive. And this applies especially to the Toyota Prius hybrid.

Right now, Toyota describes its current Stateside inventory as “adequate” and has said that it is “making every effort to minimize any long-term impact on Prius availability.” This is coming at a time when gasoline prices are rising dramatically and more buyers are looking for fuel-efficient cars.

Although Toyota makes many of its North American-market vehicles in the United States using 70 percent of components from local sources, that still means 30 percent coming from elsewhere. A production line can be held up by the lack of one little part.

Toyota and other carmakers also use a “just in time” system, where parts are delivered on site at the precise moment they are needed. This relies on a finely synchronized ballet between suppliers, haulage contractors and workers at the best of times. For Japan, this is pretty much the worst of times, with vast sections of the country’s infrastructure disrupted, including rolling blackouts because of power shortages due to stricken nuclear reactors. And the Prius is made solely in Japan, along with Scion and Lexus vehicles.

Even if car factories are open, several of the many suppliers may be affected. Usually there are three facilities that supply battery packs for Toyota’s hybrid vehicles. One is closed at the moment. A Nissan engine plant is still experiencing aftershocks. Immediately after the March 11 quake, Toyota shut down operations. As did Honda, Mazda, Suzuki, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Nissan and the Bridgestone tire company. Most of them plan to re-open around March 22. In all, there are 49 models made solely in Japan including 15 Toyota/Lexus/Scion models like FJ Cruiser, 4Runner and Lexus LX570. Mazda’s Mazda3, 2 and 5 and the Miata MX5, Subaru’s Forester and Impreza, and Nissan’s 370Z, Murano, Juke and Leaf, and Honda’s CR-Z and Fit are also on the Japan-only list.

“What we don’t know is how dealers will react,” said Juan Flores, director of vehicle valuation at Kelley Blue Book. “They need a diverse inventory to bring customers in. There might be slight increases, but we don’t anticipate any significant upward pressure on prices for the next 30 days.”

That’s because some cars are still in U.S. ports, awaiting delivery to dealerships. And factor in those already en route, having left Japan before the quake and subsequent tsunami struck. Once this supply has gone, we will have to see how quickly it can be replenished. But if this situation persists and manufacturers cannot return to a normal production schedule “it’s safe to assume that transaction prices will increase,” said Flores. “The dealers will dictate when and by how much. The Prius will be the canary.”

However, Flores noted that the 2011 Prius and 2011 Honda Civic are both currently being offered with favorable lease deals. “These promotions might have been put in before March 11,” he said. But the message is clear: don’t waste time if you want to buy a hybrid or other fuel-efficient car. And this isn’t just limited to Japanese cars. Japan supplies 60 percent of the world’s silicon, the stuff that goes in microchips – which go in cars, computers, phones, and all sorts of other products made and sold around the world.

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The 2011 Honda Odyssey near Bellingham is available at Northwest Honda.

2011 Honda Odyssey at Northwest Honda, Bellingham

2011 Honda Odyssey at Northwest Honda, Bellingham

For the 2011 model year, Washington Honda shoppers will love that the minivan includes interior and exterior updates and can now achieve up to 28 highway mpg!

Bellingham, WA – Honda shoppers in the market for the 2011 Honda Odyssey near Bellingham should look no further than Northwest Honda. With an immense inventory of 2011 models available now, the Washington Honda dealer has the vehicles and services that Honda shoppers are looking for.

The Odyssey minivan has been the top-selling minivan in the U.S. for the past two years and sets the standards high for the rest of the minivans in its class. Washington Honda shoppers at Northwest Honda should expect nothing less with the 2011 Honda Odyssey model. Updates include a sharper design, better fuel economy and more standard features and options.

The 2011 Honda Odyssey near Bellingham is available in five different trims: LX, EX, EX-L, Touring and the newest trim, Touring Elite.

The van’s new engine, a 3.5-liter, 24-valve, SOHC i-VTEC® V-6 engine with Variable Cylinder Management, helps the Odyssey achieve the best-in-class fuel economy. The Odyssey Touring achieves 19 city mpg and 28 highway mpg- an unbelievably high number for a van!

The 2011 Odyssey’s achieves a better mpg also due to its new aerodynamic shape with a lower roofline. The body of the van is also wider than previous models, which creates more interior space.

The interior of the Odyssey has seen great improvements, especially with the addition of new convenience features. A new feature that makes moving around the van easier is a “3-mode” second-row seat design that expands laterally to better accommodate third row passengers and a one-motion, 60/40 split 3rd-row Magic Seat®.

Among the long list of technology available on certain models that Northwest Honda shoppers will love includes a rear entertainment system with a 16.2-inch display and an auxiliary High-Definition Multimedia Interface video input, a Multi-Information Display (i-MID) with customizable wallpaper, integration of FM traffic data on navigation models, rearview cameras, and much more.

Hands spend more time on the wheel with available voice technology in Honda’s new Song By Voice feature, Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System with voice recognition and Bluetooth HandsFreeLink.

The Honda Odyssey was designed with Honda’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering body structure that enhances occupant protection and crash compatibility in frontal collisions. Standard safety equipment includes Vehicle Stability Assist, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution and Brake Assist, three-row side-curtain airbags with a rollover sensor, driver’s and front passenger’s side airbags with passenger-side Occupant Position Detection System, dual-stage, multiple- threshold front airbags and active front seat head restraints.

The 2011 Honda Odyssey near Bellingham is available now at Northwest Honda. Shoppers can find more information by contacting the Bellingham Honda dealer at 800-828-4882.

About Northwest Honda of Bellingham
With its family-friendly atmosphere and service, reliable cars and large inventory, Northwest Honda has become Whatcom County’s number one Honda dealership.

For more information on the Northwest Honda dealer, Washington Honda shoppers can visit http://www.northwesthonda.com.

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