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LA CAR BLOG - MAY 2005

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sun, May 1, 2005

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

LA CAR BLOG TIPS FOR SAVING GAS IN THE SOUTHLAND May 31, 2005 With petroleum companies earning a record $82 billion this past quarter, some of the editors of LA Car decided to offer a few ways to keep those dollar in your pocket. In A Pain in the Gas: Avoiding the Gas Pump Blues, many of the tips should be easy to do, such as getting to the office earlier (which means you'll spend less time in traffic and, therefore, less time with your engine running). Some of the other tips take real lifestyle changes. For instance, advertisers have done a pretty good job in making us believe we need to run over to the local car dealer and get a minivan or SUV the minute our first newborn arrives. Thirty-five years ago, it wasn't unusual for families of four to make do with a Volkswagen Beetle or similar small car. In Europe, they still do. Can't we? All together, we offer 13 tips how to personally save at the pump. In addition, we offer five ways to reduce our long-term dependence on petroleum. If you have other gas-saving tips to offer, let us know. - RN Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

Danica Patrick and her Panoz-Honda (Phillip Abbott photo) THE QUIET STORY OUT OF INDY May 30, 2005 You already know the big stories out of this year's Indianapolis 500: Dan Wheldon brought Michael Andretti his first 500 victory as a car owner after failing 14 times as a driver. And Danica Patrick and her Team Bobby Rahal racer brought most of the 350,000 spectators to their feet when the 23-year-old rookie led for 19 laps and traded the lead with Wheldon twice. The quieter story out of Indy has to do with the engines that powered the racers: Honda powered the top four finishers. Once again, the field of finishers were dominated by Honda and Toyota, proving that last year's results were no fluke. Thus, the grandest symbol of American car racing is no longer a battle between the major American-based automakers. Although five of the 33 finishers were powered by Chevrolet engines, all of the 28 other racers were powered by Honda or Toyota. Will NASCAR be next? - RN Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

CHICKEN THAT WAS TICKETED FOR CROSSING THE ROAD COMES HOME TO ROOST May 29, 2005 Remember the chicken that got ticketed for crossing the road? (See May 9th Blog entry below.) According to the Associated Press, the chicken managed to clawed his way out of it. The $54 citation for impeding traffic was tossed out Friday after Linc and Helena Moore's attorney argued that the fowl was domesticated and could not be charged as livestock, reports AP. Evidently, California state law restricts livestock on highways, but not domestic animals. The chicken was ticketed March 26 for impeding traffic after it wandered onto a road in Johannesburg, a rural mining community southeast of Ridgecrest, California. Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

METER MAN STEALS $120,000, QUARTER-BY-QUARTER May 28, 2005 A former parking meter attendant accused of stealing $120,000 - quarter by quarter - has pleaded guilty to embezzlement and has promised to pay most of it back, according to the Associated Press. Vincent J. Howard agreed in court Tuesday to repay $70,000 within 30 days and $30,000 more over the two years that he'll be on probation. Macomb County Circuit Judge Richard Caretti also ordered the 50-year-old Howard to spend six months on an electronic tether. Howard, who worked for the Detroit suburb of Mount Clemens for 23 years, was arrested last year after police raided his home and found thousands of dollars in coins. They also found $500 in his car and $2,000 in a city-owned car Howard used on his rounds. "He said he took $500 every two weeks for 10 years to pay bills," county Assistant Prosecutor Steve Steinhardt said to AP. "But I think he used the money to more than supplement his income." AP reports that Howard now works as a $9-an-hour laborer for a fence company. Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

No, that's not the new Jetta; it's a Toyota Corolla. THE NINE-PASSENGER TOYOTA COMPACT CAR May 26, 2005 Getting nine passengers into a Toyota compact car is no easy feat. You can't even do that with a minivan or SUV. According to staff writers Tonya Alanez and Jack Leonard of the Los Angeles Times, one resourceful Gardena woman did just that. In addition to two adults up front, a child on her lap, and four children in the back seat, she squeezed in two in the trunk. Evidently, it all started when an alert motorist called 911 after noticing a woman checking on two children in the trunk of a Toyota compact before closing the trunk lid and driving north on the San Diego Freeway. Says Alanez and Leonard, a California Highway Patrol officer then pulled the car over after it reached the Antelope Valley. The officer found Laverne Dunlap, 35, with five passengers, including the child on her lap. None of the four children in the back seat were wearing seat belts, said CHP Officer Wendy Hahn to the Times. "When the officer asked to reportedly said 'absolutely,' and sure enough there were two kids in the trunk." The Times reports that Dunlap was arrested on suspicion of felony child endangerment. "She was released on her own recognizance Saturday afternoon with a promise to appear in Santa Clarita Court on June 20, Hahn said." Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

HEAD-TO-HEAD WITH RUDOLF May 24, 2005

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This is the story of my encounter with one of the many deer in southern Sweden. I was a little luckier than the Durango driver on the left, so take this as a warning: That cute deer can hurt you! My encounter came while driving a couple of friends though the southern parts of Sweden in a Citroen C5. It was dusk, and I was actually doing the speed-limit of about 60 mph. The road was semi-twisty but not to the point that one would need to slow down too much to corner. Suddenly I found myself 100 feet from a deer in the middle of the road. I could swear it was not there a split second ago! There was no time to think. I swerved just enough to the right so that the impact was not frontal. I somehow managed to hit the deer with the left front tire and fling it up against my door. I managed to pull the car back on the road and slow down enough to turn into a rest spot, check the car for damage and turn around to check on the deer. We found that it had hobbled over to the side of the road and was probably in great pain. Since we were out in the bush of southern Sweden, we knew we were responsible for taking care of this mess, and that leaving it could potentially cause more problems for future passer-bys. We managed to find a nearby house and asked the owner if he wanted to go hunting. It turns out that he owned the land, so the deer was basically his. He took the deer, and we were on our merry way. A little shaken, yes, but we were fine. The damage to the car was a little indention just rear of the left front tire. It looked as if someone had thrown a baseball against the car. It made the whole impact a bit of a mystery. Well, at least we had an interesting story to tell when we arrived at my friend's house. So what lesson is there to learn? The lesson is simple: When there is the slightest risk of wild animals, slow down! It might not save you from hitting anything, but it will at least increase your chances of walking away from it. Sorry Rudolf. - John-Fredrik Wright Editor's Note: John-Fredrik Wight is LA Car's European Correspondent. Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

O JETTA, WHERE ART THOU? May 21, 2005 You may not have noticed, but the all-new Volkswagen Jetta has been on sale in the USA since March. The new car set a new benchmark for side impact collision safety (see April 25, 2005 LA Car Blog) and interior refinement, is substantially roomier that the model it replaced, has a torquey new motor designed from half the cylinders of the V-10 Lamborghini Gallardo, and handles better than just about any small family sedan on the market. So, how come I haven't seen any on the road? I see Volkswagen Phaetons on the road, but still no new Jettas. Oh sure, there are plenty of them on dealer showrooms. Even the West Covina Parkway Plaza mall has one on display (but no new Jettas in the mall parking lot). Many an armchair critic have flogged Volkswagen for making the new Jetta look more Japanese than German. Indeed, more than one has commented on its striking resemblance to the current Toyota Corolla - a car that itself borrowed heavily from Volkswagen's Phaeton and the previous Jetta schools of design. Volkswagen merely did the same with the new Jetta. Unfortunately, Toyota beat them to the punch.

Despite the design anomaly, the new Jetta is still a pretty smart-looking car. In person, the car looks well-proportioned. And I expect to see the new front grille treatment on the Jetta copied by others. The problem, IMHO, lies as much in its pricing as in its style. Back in January, Volkswagen announced that the new Jetta would be based-priced at $17,900 MSRP. That's just $220 more than the model it replaced. Unfortunately, you'll be hard put finding one that price. One dealer I visited had the audacity to mark up the Jetta in the showroom well over $30,000. Most of the new Jettas are optioned out at close to $25,000. Still, that's more than what you'd actually pay for the even roomier and more powerful Passat. It's also the price of an Acura TSX, which already comes fully loaded with a leather interior, a great 200 hp motor, and all the creature comforts you'd want, sans a navigation system. The fix seems relatively simple: Make the base model more available, and ease up on the mark-ups. As for the design, VW is pretty much committed to the circles in a rectangle taillights as part of their brand look. And there are only so many ways you can design a roof. If VW replaced the formal roofline with the dog leg kick in the C-pillar (like the previous Jetta), people will probably complain that the car is copying the BMW or Mazda3. Sometimes, you can't win. - RN

- Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

Hummer soars in latest report. © photo by Harvey Schwartz TOYOTA & GM GARNER MOST AWARDS IN JD POWER REPORT May 18, 2005 WESTLAKE VILLAGE, CA: 18 May 2005 - Toyota Motor Corporation and General Motors Corporation, the two largest automobile manufacturers in the world, capture 15 of the 18 top model segment awards, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2005 Initial Quality Study (IQS) released today. In the study, Toyota Motor Corporation earns 10 of the top model segment awards, with the Lexus SC 430 honored as the highest-ranking model for the second consecutive year, at 54 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100). Other Toyota models earning segment awards include the Toyota Prius (Compact Car), Scion tC (Sporty Car) and Toyota RAV4 (Entry SUV). General Motors earns five top model segment awards, including those for the Chevrolet Malibu/Malibu Maxx (Entry Midsize Car), Buick Century (Premium Midsize Car) and Chevrolet Suburban (Full-Size SUV). "The 2005 IQS results contain some genuinely good news for General Motors," said Chance Parker, executive director of product and research analysis at J.D. Power and Associates. "The improvements of the quality of several models and at their North American plants are both very positive signs." Ford Motor Company captures two model awards, with the Ford Explorer Sport Trac (Midsize Pickup) and Ford F-150 LD (Full-Size Pickup) ranking highest in their respective segments. Assembly Plant Awards General Motors Corporation sweeps the North/South America plant quality awards. General Motors' Oshawa #2, Ontario, Canada, plant, which produces the Buick Century, Buick LaCrosse and Pontiac Grand Prix, earns the Gold Plant Quality Award. The Oshawa #1, Ontario, and Hamtramck, Mich., plants earn the Silver and Bronze Plant Quality awards, respectively. For the fourth consecutive year, Toyota Motor Corporation's Tahara, Japan, car plant receives the Platinum Plant Quality Award for worldwide plant quality with a score of 59 PP100. The Tahara plant produces the Lexus GS 300/GS 430 and the Lexus LS 430. Toyota's Higashi-Fuji, Japan, plant and Nissan's Tochigi, Japan, plant earn the Silver and Bronze Plant Quality awards, respectively, among Asia Pacific plants. Among European plants, Ford Motor Company's Jaguar plant in Halewood, Liverpool, U.K., receives the Gold Plant Quality Award. BMW's Regensburg, Germany, plant earns the Silver Plant Quality Award. BMW's Munich and Porsche's Stuttgart plants tie for the Bronze Plant Quality Award. Marked Improvement The study shows that a number of makes and models demonstrate marked improvements from the 2004 study. Chief among them is HUMMER, with a 36 percent reduction in reported problems. Since its debut in the 2003 IQS, HUMMER has reduced reported problems by 115 PP100. "In the past, there was a lot of talk about HUMMER's poor quality being related to poor fuel economy," said Parker. "This year's results clearly show that the people at HUMMER knew this wasn't the case. They identified many customer-reported problems and solved them." Nissan also performed dramatically better in the 2005 study, with the Nissan Quest as the most-improved model, recording an impressive 104 PP100 improvement. Other models showing notable improvements are the Kia Spectra (64 PP100 improvement), the HUMMER H2 (63 PP100 improvement), and the Scion xA (62 PP100 improvement). Overall, the automotive industry garners only a minor increase in industry-wide initial quality in 2005. After showing an 11 percent quality improvement from 2003 to 2004, the overall industry average has improved only one PP100 in 2005 to 118 PP100. "Competition in the automotive industry is incredibly intense," said Parker. "Even though the 2005 results may suggest a plateau in quality, manufacturers should not become complacent. The IQS has tracked similar apparent 'plateaus' before in 1996 and 2003. In both cases, the following year's results showed dramatic quality improvements. Car companies that take their eye off the ball risk being left behind." Manufacturers demonstrate overall improvement in more than one-half of the 135 problem symptoms included in the study, compared to 2004. Among the nine problem categories surveyed, ride/handling/braking and exterior problems continue to cause the greatest challenge to manufacturers. Consumers report that the transmission causes the least number of problems. What IQS Measures IQS is a model-level study. It measures 135 attributes across nine categories, including ride/handling/braking, engine and transmission, and a broad range of quality problems symptoms reported by vehicle owners. The 2005 Initial Quality Study is based on responses from more than 62,000 purchasers and lessees of new 2005 model-year cars and trucks, who were surveyed after 90 days of ownership. This study for new-vehicle initial quality is now in its 19th year.

Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

Ford is preparing a hybrid version of the new Fusion. HYDRAULICS COULD BOOST HYBRID'S POWER May 15, 2005 J.D. Power and Associates Inc. predicts that hybrids will account for three percent of U.S. vehicle sales by 2011. However, today's hybrid vehicle batteries must be replaced every eight to 10 years, at a cost of about $1500-$5000 more than the premium buyers pay for the fuel-saving technology. Inventor Steve Bloxham presented a new technology at the Society of Automotive Engineers' conference in Detroit that is said to be less expensive, 50 percent lighter, and eliminates the environmental concerns associated with battery disposal, according to Eric Mayne of the Detroit News. Tentatively named the Phoenix Motor, Bloxham's device uses hydraulics to generate the juice needed to power the electric motor mated to a gasoline engine in a typical hybrid vehicle. Bloxham, president of California-based Compressor Control Co., is marketing his technology as hybrid vehicle sales gain momentum amid rising fuel prices. The Phoenix Motor is named because its power is reborn from energy wasted during the braking process. "The customer buys the car to save money (on gas) and half the money he's spent goes back into replacing the battery," said Bloxham. But Bloxham faces a significant obstacle: automakers have yet to embrace hydraulic hybrids. Ford Motor Co. is among the manufacturers that have examined Bloxham's technology. "Batteries are expensive, but not so problematic," Ford's Vice President of Research and Advanced Engineering Gerhard Schmidt told Mayne. Schmidt said hydraulic systems are cumbersome for smaller vehicles. "(They) tend to have a higher energy-saving value on heavier vehicles." "Bloxham admits that his motor represents a compromise over conventional batteries, says Mayne. "Its power, generated when compressed gas moves hydraulic fluid through a pump-motor, drains more quickly than in typical hybrids." "I lose my extra boost after 10 or 20 seconds - they lose it after 30 or 40 seconds," Bloxham said to Mayne. Readily available technologies can fix that, he said. "A full-size car with variable valve timing and turbocharging would still be able to allow that car to go up a mountain grade at 80 mph." Omnico President Jim Whitney, an engineering firm in Rochester Hills, believes the Phoenix Motor has a future in commercial vehicles, however. "He's been pitching Bloxham's brainchild to makers of "in-plant" workhorse vehicles," says Mayne. "Whitney envisions the Phoenix Motor in tow vehicles used by airport baggage handlers. A vehicle could operate for brief intervals on hydraulic power alone, promising to reduce the hazards of emissions in the workplace. The technology also shows promise for vehicles that handle heavy loads in a constant cycle of stops and starts." According to Mayne, Cleveland-based Eaton Corp.has built a garbage hauler with a hydraulic hybrid. "It differs from Bloxham's design in that the hydraulics spin a driveshaft." "Tests have shown a 20 percent improvement in fuel economy over a conventional powertrain and a 50 percent reduction in brake wear because Eaton's driveshaft can reverse direction to slow the vehicle," Eaton's director of new business ventures informed Mayne.

Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

DETROIT JOURNALIST BUYS HONDA ACCORD AND CATCHES FLAK May 12, 2005 LA Car Senior Contributing Editor knows Detroit. After all, he grew up there. "Hometown loyalty in Southeast Michigan is a big deal," says Dapoz. "But over the last 10 years, the Big Three (GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler) have lost their stranglehold. I've seen quite a few people, many who come from Big Three families, buying non-Detroit iron." The times may be a changing, but Detroit Free Press columnist Matt Helms still caught plenty of heat for his recent decision to buy a 2005 Honda Accord. Helms recently purchased a new Honda Accord instead of buying a vehicle from one of the Big Three. An excerpt explaining his reasoning follows: I assure you I didn't make the decision lightly. But the American car companies haven't seemed to care much about people like me who want modest, reliable, well-valued midsize cars. Honda and Toyota dominate this category while Ford, General Motors and Chrysler focus on SUVs, pickups, luxury cars, minivans and sporty models. If fuel practicality and efficiency didn't matter to me, I would have given Ford's Thunderbird or its really hot Mustang a try, or Pontiac's GTO. If I were in the market for a pickup or an SUV, the Ford Escape or Freestyle might have made it. But I'm budget conscious, and fuel economy, quality, reliability, safety and resale value are more important to me than flash and power. No Ford or GM vehicle offered as many of those factors in one affordable midsize sedan as the Honda Accord does. Shopping around: I did take a look at the American competition. I have nothing against the U.S. car companies, except that I had a bad experience with my 2002 Dodge Stratus. As a result, I won't be buying another Chrysler vehicle anytime soon, which is a shame because the company has so many hot new vehicles. Ford's only offering besides the bland Taurus is the Ford Five Hundred, which is too big for me and out of my price range by several thousand dollars. Pontiac's G6 isn't a bad-looking car, but side-by-side comparisons at GM's Web site show it's slightly more expensive and emphasizes horsepower over safety compared to the Accord. The G6's V6 couldn't match the gas mileage of the 4-cylinder Accord. And two safety features ## antilock brakes and side-curtain airbags for all four doors ## are standard on the Accord but optional on the G6. Same with the Pontiac Grand Prix, with a base price around $3,000 more than the Accord. The most competitive was Chevrolet's Malibu, but GM's Web site said antilock brakes, the all-over airbags, cruise control and remote keyless entry were extras on the Malibu. Those were standard on the Accord. I mention the Malibu last because looks-wise, it's also the most boring car in the bunch. I'm going to be spending $20,000-plus on a vehicle, making it my second biggest monthly expense behind my mortgage. When I shopped for a house, I bought what I could afford, with as many features as I could get in my price range, in a neighborhood I knew to be stable, with the promise of a respectable return on my money should I decide to trade up one day. Why wouldn't I do the same with a car? - Matt Helm, Detroit Free Press Reader reaction to Matt Helms' new car One erudite gentleman called him a maggot. Another wished him a short tenure, unemployment, a lemon. A more even-tempered reader named Mike, who described himself as "from one of the Big Three," said: "Promoting that car will shut down Michigan. Try to be loyal to your state and the people who work here." Steven Lindon of Westland: "You live in Detroit and write for the Detroit Free Press, yet you go out and purchase a Honda. I realize that Accords are built in Ohio, but I would think that someone living in Detroit would at least consider a vehicle built by one of the Big Three. I know nowadays there is no such thing as a true 'American' car, but there are thousands of hardworking men and women who are building some very high-quality vehicles. My dad has been with GM for 33 years working on the plant floor and he said he enjoyed your column until today."

Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

CHICKEN TICKETED FOR CROSSING THE ROAD May 9, 2005 Linc and Helena Moore may have finally learned the answer to that age-old question: Why did the chicken cross the road? Because the chicken doesn't know jaywalking is illegal. Kern County Sheriff's Deputy J. Nicholson does know, however. The deputy issued a ticket March 26 because one of the couple's chickens allegedly impeded traffic in Johannesburg, reports the Associated Press. Johannesburg is a rural mining community near Ridgecrest, some 220 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The Moores were in Superior Court on Friday to plead not guilty. A trial was scheduled for May 16. Sheriff Nicholson declined to discuss the matter, but Sheriff's Sgt. Francis Moore informed AP that chickens on the roadway have been a problem in the community of 50 residents. Officials didn't believe it could be resolved by simply issuing the couple a warning. "Sometimes you have to let people talk to the judge," Moore told reporters. The chicken's owners say they were cited because they were among several people who complained that sheriff's deputies haven't done enough to control off-road vehicle riders who create dust and noise in their neighborhood. Sheriff's officials say that isn't so, adding they are doing what they can to keep off-roaders away from homes. Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

S & P CUTS GM AND FORD TO JUNK STATUS May 6, 2005 Standard & Poor's on Thursday cut its ratings on about $290 billion of General Motors Corporation and Ford Motor Company bonds to junk, jolting financial markets and further hampering the automakers as they grapple with brutal competition, reports Dan Wilchins of Reuters. The downgrades, the largest ever of their kind, sent stocks and the U.S. dollar lower, while safe-haven Treasury bond prices jumped. "Junk," or speculative-grade bonds slumped as investors braced for the market to grow by as much as 15 percent in short order. With junk ratings, the automakers have fewer avenues for raising funds because many large institutional investors cannot buy speculative-grade debt. These types of issuers are deemed more likely to default. Both companies said they were disappointed with the action, reports Reuters. Ford Responds To Its Employees Ford CEO William Clay Ford sent the following memorandum to Ford employees in response: Today, Standard & Poor's changed its credit ratings for our company to a non-investment grade of BB+ with a negative outlook, and took action on General Motors that was even more negative. Their stated rationale suggested pretty deep pessimism about the U.S. auto industry's ability to successfully counter increasing competitive challenges. I won't speak for others, but when it comes to Ford, we don't share anyone's pessimism. And, it is our job to prove our critics wrong. In fact, we disagree with S&P on a number of issues. Specifically, we felt they discounted our considerable liquidity, our access to diverse funding sources and the clear, recent successes of our new products in North America, Europe and the rest of the world. We have overcome other obstacles and we will do the same in the face of these negative perceptions. We won't do it with words, but by showing continuous progress toward our stated goals. Today's action was unwelcome, but we should consider it an undeniable call for us to accelerate our business plans. That means being even more aggressive in driving down our costs so that we can successfully develop and build high-quality cars and trucks that people want. We cannot wait for someone else to act. Everyone who is part of the Ford Motor Company family has a role to play in our continued recovery. I will step up efforts to examine and challenge everything we do and how we do it, asking whether it delivers value to customers and if there is a better way. You should do the same. I have no doubt that we will face tough decisions on the allocation of resources, and I assure you that we will act quickly to enhance activities that improve our business and eliminate those things that are not sustainable in this difficult environment. The view of S&P and the other rating agencies is important to our company's prosperity. Successful navigation of the path forward will require sacrifice and resolve. However, I have every confidence in the determination of our leadership team and the grit of our people. We will take whatever measures are necessary, and we will succeed. Thank you. Bill Ford Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

Hybrid Lexus RX400h will soon flock the shores of California A HAVEN FOR HYBRIDS May 5, 2005 Nationwide registrations for new hybrid vehicles rose to 83,153 in 2004 - an 81 percent increase from 2003, according to R. L. Polk & Co. The Toyota Prius recorded 53,761 new hybrid-vehicle registrations in 2004, a 33 percent increase over 2003. The Prius occupies 64 percent of the hybrid market, a sizeable lead over the Honda Civic, which had 25,586 registrations and 31 percent market share. Since the introduction of hybrid vehicles in 2000, the market has grown by more than 960 percent. California strongly outpaces all other states in new hybrid-vehicle registrations. In 2004, there were 25,021 new hybrid-vehicle registrations in California, about 4.5 times that of second-place Virginia with 5,613. Washington came in third with 3,441; Florida came in fourth with 3,272; and Maryland rounds out the top five with 3,238 new hybrid-vehicle registrations in 2004. Similarly, Los Angeles remains the top metropolitan area for hybrid vehicles with 10,399 new hybrid-vehicle registrations in 2004, more than doubling the total from 2003. San Francisco came in second at 8,051, followed by Washington, D.C., with 6,473 new hybrid-vehicle registrations. New York came in fourth at 3,779, followed by Seattle with 2,857 new hybrid-vehicle registrations in 2004. Each of these markets experienced significant growth in the number of new hybrid-vehicle registrations compared with the previous year, a confirmation of the robust strength of this new vehicle segment. While hybrid registrations have shot up last year, and knowing where these vehicles are registered provides some insight into the dynamics of the market, there is something to keep in mind here: total vehicle sales. There were 83,153 hybrids registered in 2004, but total vehicles sales last year amounted to 16.8 million vehicles. Also, hybrids have been on sale since mid-2000, and all of those hybrids registered were sold sometime in the past five years. So as one looks at the tremendous growth experienced by the hybrid market, keep in mind that it is still a relatively small market. One question still remains: if gas prices remain stable or even drop, will hybrid sales slow down? It seems that for now, and until the end of summer, gas prices will remain high, so a slow down in the growing hybrid market will probably not happen in the near future. Source: SEMA Research and Information Center Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

Mays & Thomas designed the Concept 1, which became the New Beetle FREEMAN THOMAS REUNITES WITH J MAYS AT FORD May 2, 2005 Storied automotive designer Freeman Thomas is joining Ford Motor Company June 1, sliding into the driver's seat of its North American strategic design enterprise. Thomas, 47, will become director of Strategic Design, reporting to Peter Horbury, executive director of Design, North America. Based in the company's Irvine, Calif. studio, Thomas will lead advanced design teams in both California and Dearborn. In addition to developing product design strategies and concept vehicles, the Strategic Design team will work closely with the Advanced Product Creation team of engineers and product experts to create compelling new production vehicles. "Freeman lives, eats, breathes, sleeps and even dreams about cars," said J Mays, Ford Motor Company group vice president of Design and chief creative officer. "He is the consummate designer. But what makes Freeman truly special is his ability to create iconically beautiful vehicles that are both emotionally gripping and culturally relevant. He loves to tell a story through design." Thomas, who resigned April 21 as head of DaimlerChrysler Pacifica Advanced Design Center, has created an enviable collection of vehicles and underlying strategies during his 22-year career. His hit parade includes everything from the 500-horsepower Dodge Tomahawk motorcycle and the "Noble American Sedan" strategy that evolved into the production version Chrysler 300C to the Audi TT concept and Volkswagen Concept 1 (known today as the New Beetle), which he developed with Mays in the 1990s. "Freeman has not only the artistic ability to deliver strong designs, but he also has the unique blend of intuition and business savvy to drive his team and the rest of the enterprise to deliver the right products for the right market at the proper time," Horbury said. "He'll add still more horsepower to our efforts to create tomorrow's vehicles and will further fuel our team." Ultimately, Thomas says, it's the strength of the design team that lured him to the company. "I spent time looking at and considering all my options, and I chose Ford," he said. "I regard J Mays as the industry's top design leader, and the team he has built is second-to-none. I couldn't pass by the opportunity to work with such a high-caliber collection of design standouts, many of whom I also consider friends." Thomas kicked off his career in 1983 as a senior designer at Porsche AG, after graduating from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., which he attended on a full Ford scholarship. He left Porsche in 1987 but continued working on Porsche product designs while heading his own design consultancy, teaching at Art Center and providing design analysis and reviews in popular automotive magazines. Thomas joined Audi in 1991, helping deliver key vehicle designs such as the Volkswagen Concept 1 and its cabriolet concept in 1994 as well as the Audi TT concept and the Audi TTS Spyder Concept the following year. He moved to SHR in 1996, following Mays. This time, the duo created an aluminum space-frame vehicle for Alcoa. Thomas returned to Volkswagen in 1996 as chief designer in the Simi Valley, Calif., studio. He was named vice president of DaimlerChrysler Advanced Product Design Strategy in 1999, a position he filled until he was named the head of Pacifica Advanced Design Center in 2002. That same year, Thomas was awarded an honorary doctorate from Art Center College of Design, making him one of few alumni recipients, along with Mays. Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

Best of the Week

WOULD-BE CAR BURGLAR LOCKS SELF IN TRUNK May 1, 2005 A man attempting to burglarize a car locked himself in the trunk and was swiftly arrested, according to the Associated Press. A security guard at an apartment complex in southeast Fresno followed a trail of blood to a banging noise coming from the trunk. Authorities responding to the scene expected to find a victim, but instead discovered the burglar, according to the AP report. "Genius, pure genius," said Fresno County Sheriff's Lt. Louis Hernandez. Police informed AP that he cut himself on the door of another car he'd broken into, then trickled blood across the parking lot to the car he eventually locked himself inside. The man initially told authorities he had been hit on the head and stuffed in the trunk, but police found items stolen from another vehicle inside the trunk with the suspect. "He popped the trunk from the inside and crawled back there, ransacking every inch," Hernandez said. "But then he grabs the trunk to heave himself out and closes it on top of him. He's got to be the dumbest criminal of the day." The man was taken to University Medical Center to be treated for cuts, then to the Fresno County Jail to be booked on two counts of theft. According to AP, the police did not identify the suspect. Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.

A JOURNAL OF LOS ANGELES & ITS CAR CULTURE

Ford Mustang Stamp

That was LA Car's subtitle when it started back in 1997. Since then, it became Reporting From Car Culture Ground Zero, then From The Heart of Car Culture, to today's The Cars and Culture of Southern California. At all times, however, we aimed to chronicle the Southland's spirit - much like a journal. Now, the diary goes daily. LA Car has always been a great source to come back to from month-to-month, to see what articles and reviews have been added to our rather staggering database. With the LA Car Blog, we give you a reason to come back virtually every day, as we will be posting new blog entries virtually every day or two (well, there will be occasional vacation breaks).

So, go ahead and bookmark www.lacar.com. We'll be sure to always provide a link to the latest blog entry. In the meantime, welcome to the journal and journey into the cars and culture of Southern California.

- Roy Nakano

For past LA Car Blog entries, click the following: April 2005 March 2005 February 2005 January 2005 December 2004 November 2004 October 2004 September 2004 August 2004 July 2004 June 2004 May 2004 April 2004

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