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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 Fri, Sep 30, 2005

By: The LACar Editorial Staff


Civics top the searches LA CAR BLOG CONSUMER SEARCHES FOR LARGE SUVs DECLINE RAPIDLY October 29, 2005 For the second month, consumer searches for sport utility vehicles are rapidly declining, while searches for more fuel-efficient models are the most popular among consumers, according to the latest Consumer Search Index. Search numbers for some large SUVs, including the GMC Envoy, GMC Yukon, Toyota Sequoia and Chevrolet TrailBlazer, dropped by more than 25 percent in September. Conversely, fuel-efficient vehicles like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Toyota Prius continue to dominate both new-and used-vehicle consumer searches and email inquiries sent to dealers.  The Toyota Prius continues to move up the list of the most-searched vehicles. In September, the Prius ranked No. 6 among the most-searched vehicles, up from eighth in August. The Prius also ranked No. 3 in the number of email inquiries sent to dealers, up from sixth in August.  When new vehicles and re-designed 2006 models are introduced into the market accompanied by a major marketing campaign or an increase in marketing/PR efforts, there typically is an immediate boost in consumer search activity. General Motors has three vehicles - the Pontiac Solstice, Chevrolet Impala, and the Chevrolet - that have seen significant increases in both new and used vehicle searches as a result of successful marketing campaigns.  On the opposite end, the Hummer H3, which topped the search increase last month, is among the list of the greatest decliners. Increased consumer interest generated as a result of a large marketing campaign has seemingly waned. Models with the largest number of searches performed  Top New-Car Vehicle Searches  1 Honda Civic  2 Honda Accord  3 Toyota Corolla 4 Toyota Camry 5 Volkswagen Jetta 6 Toyota Prius 7 Nissan Altima 8 Ford Mustang 9 Mazda 3 10 BMW 325 Top Used-Car Vehicle Searches  1 Honda Civic 2 Honda Accord 3 Ford Mustang 4 Toyota Camry 5 Volkswagen Jetta 6 Toyota Corolla 7 Ford F-150 8 Toyota Tacoma 9 Mitsubishi Eclipse 10 Nissan Maxima Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.



Suzuki Reno THE NEW VOLKSWAGEN: IT'S CALLED SUZUKI October 25, 2005 Once upon a time, before minivans and SUVs, smart shoppers bought Volkswagen Beetles. They were simple to operate, reliable, easy to work on, and inexpensive to purchase and own. Even young families of four found the Beetle to be perfectly adequate for their needs. That was many years ago. Since then, Volkswagen decided it wants to be a more upscale car brand. Families have changed too. Many of those expecting their first newborn have already convinced themselves they need a minivan or SUV.  With gas cresting at $3.00 per gallon, a few people are having second thoughts about how much they really need that big and bold SUV. Right about now seems a good time to get back in touch with the basics. As it turns out, you can still buy that small and simple car. Rather than a VW emblem, however, it's emblazon with an "S" - as in Suzuki. Not that Suzuki only makes small and simple cars. They make a pretty good SUV or two. But unlike other car brands that try to offer vehicles for every segment of the market, Suzuki's focus is where VW's use to be.  I recently had an opportunity to spend some drive time behind the wheel of two small Suzukis: The Aerio SX wagon and the five-door Reno hatchback. At $15,199, the tall Aerio wagon manages to look more like a minivan shrunken down to 3/5 scale. That might make the Aerio wagon the spiritual successor to the VW Microbus to some people. To me, the Aerio looks a bit odd, with a profile not unlike that of a roller skate with its tiny-looking wheels. On the other hand, it offers a good amount of space, and its interior appointments appear to be of surprisingly high quality for a $15,000 vehicle. The real jewel is the Reno. At $13,199, it undercuts even the Aerio. Its five-door hatchback design is reminiscent of those sporty compacts that roam around Italy. That's no accident: The Reno was shaped in Italy's famed Italdesign studios.  Driving the Reno, I'm struck by how much car can be bought for $13,000. The car offers quite a bit of room. The ride, handling and off-the-line acceleration are perfectly acceptable. With the five-speed manual transmission, it's even fun to drive. The interior appointments also belie the price of the car, with air conditioning, side-mounted airbags, a CD/AM/FM/cassette audio system with eight speakers, driver's seat height adjustment, 60/40 split folding rear seats, and floor mats all standard on the car. With all this going for the Reno, it makes one wonder why we spend more for a car. Okay, an automatic transmission is a necessity for some of us. But even an automatic-equipped Reno is a very inexpensive car.  One thing is for sure: A young family of four will be a whole lot more comfortable in the Reno than those families ever were in the old Beetle.          - Roy Nakano Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.



Move over Corvette Z06 and Mercedes-McLaren. BEST BANG FOR THE GULP October 21, 2005 For years, car magazines have done articles on who offers the best bang for the buck - i.e., which cars gave you the best acceleration times for the money. Camaros and Mustangs frequented that group early on. In later years, it was WRXes and EVOs.  That was then. Today, spiraling gasoline prices and hybrids dominate the automotive news. So, it was only a matter of time before someone determined which cars offer the most horsepower per gallon of gas.  As reported by Richard J. Newman, U.S. News has developed the first "muscle per gallon" index, based on data provided by Kelley Blue Book, that ranks nearly 500 vehicles according to a combination of power and fuel economy. To compute the index scores, they multiplied each vehicle's city gas-mileage rating by its peak horsepower and divided by 100. According to Newman, "The rankings help consumers compare which cars offer the most and least power per gallon of burned fuel." Using this new index, U.S. News determined that the $33,595 Toyota Highland Hybrid 2WD, with an index of 88.44, offers the best bang per gallon of gasoline of any vehicle sold in the country. Trailing a distant second, with an index of 80.80, is the $65,800 Chevrolet Corvette Z06. Third place, with an index of 80.21, goes to the $452,750 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. Rounding out fourth place is the $121,275 Mercedes-Benz CL55 AMG. The $169,775 Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG and $180,375 Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG are tied for fifth place. - RN To view the rankings of all the vehicles, go to   Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.



MAZDA BUILDS THE PERFECT MIATA (IS THAT ENOUGH?) October 18, 2005 I come away mighty impressed with the all-new 2006 Mazda MX-5. The lengths that Mazda went through to perfect this car will even make Adrian Monk raise an eyebrow. The car was already one of the most well-balanced sports cars on the market. For 2006, the MX-5 has a new engine that's 42 pounds lighter. They even went through the trouble to move the engine 5.3 inches rearward for a near perfect 50/50 weight distribution. As expected, the convertible cloth top is a one-hand, easy-fold design. Unexpectedly, no tonneau cover is needed, since the top is beautifully integrated when it's folded down. And with the top down, the MX-5 reveals a fresh-looking interior.   To keep the car at its sporting best, lightweight aluminum is used for the hood, decklid, transmission-to-differential power plant frame, and suspension components. To further lighten the load, both the driveshaft and front stabilizer bar are hollow. Even the rearview mirror was redesigned to save 94 grams in weight. Mazda claims it tested 59 variations of exhaust notes. The claim is believable. The new MX-5 exhibits one of the best sounds ever to come out of a four-cylinder engine.  The new 2.0-liter aluminum engine packs 170 horsepower - a 20 percent increase from the outgoing model. The engine uses molybdenum-coated pistons. The power is transmitted through a quick-revving ultra-lightweight flywheel to a six-speed short-throw manual transmission. The automatic version features six forward speeds and steering wheel-mounted fingertip shifters. Even with the automatic, the car offers a high level of spirited performance.  For styling, Mazda took the honorable route and paid homage to the original Miata. The new Miata looks more like the original than the model it replaced. It's a smart design. Unfortunately, the designers at Pontiac decided to make their Miata-competitor, the Solstice, look like a vintage Ferrari competition spyder. In the end, it may all come down to the way the car looks. In the case of the MX-5, it's a familiar face. The Solstice, on the other hand, looks like the hot new student on campus. Mazda may have built the perfect Miata, but, alas, buyers of two-seater convertibles may be looking for something different. - Roy Nakano    Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.




Pontiac Aztek MORE REASONS WHY PEOPLE HATE CERTAIN CARS October 15, 2005 In LA Car's October 12th Blog entry, Reasons Why People Hate Certain Cars (see below), Robert James revealed why he hates early Camaros and Z cars. Sometimes the reasons have nothing to do with the quality of the car. Some members of the online automotive community offer more reasons.'s H22 CD5 explains, "Everytime that I see a black Lincoln Navigator, it reminds me of my psycho bitch ex. So, in turn, I hate black Lincoln Navigators due to the mental torture they bestow upon me."  Thhe Honda Civic definitely will go down in history as one of the most despised vehicles ever, and one that defines the meaning of "rice" - specifically the 1987-2000 models, which are the ricer's vehicle of choice. The newer models don't suffer the same fate, as the Civic has moved up in class and is now more expensive and costly to mod." "Because some cars are just plain ugly, says Car and's ptop007. "For example, the Pontiac Aztec, the old Mercury Sable with the light-up front grill, or any car with fake wood side panels or a fake canvas top."'s NomisR goes after America's most popular car. "I dislike the Toyota Camry because it seems like all the drivers on the road who drive them are dumbasses who are oblivious to the road. There are drivers who are like that in other vehicles but because the Toyota Camry is so abundant, it stands out a lot more. Therefore, I refuse to drive near one for fear of them doing anything stupid that'll cause me harm. And to no surprise, I have met a lot of other people who shared the sentiment before I even expressed my feelings towards the car. Maybe it's something about the Camry that attracts people to buying it." Ford SVT of the same forum thinks he understands NonisR's sentiments about the Camry. "I think the average age of a Camry buyer these days is, like, 82 years old. It's the new Buick. Honestly, there are a million beige-colored, four-cylinder Camrys driven by very old people where I live. And, as we all know, old people drive like crap!"'s DaveH says, "Thinking back, I always disliked Chrysler-Dodge-Plymouth vehicles ("hated" is such an extreme word). In my youth, it started with the late 60's and early 70's models due to the way the starters would "wheeze" or wind down after disengaging from attempting to start the engine. If you tried to re-engage the starter before the wheeze stopped, you were greeted with a metal on metal screech from the grinding of the starter and the flywheel. That wheezing sound was not heard in GM and Ford products of the time and led to my initial distaste for anything Mopar."'s DJKrunchyKracker has a different theory on it all. "IMHO, I believe that we are all just a bunch of haters, plain and simple. We are all from different places with different upbringings and different ethnic backgrounds." Honda-Tech's Sicky offers a philosophical explanation:  "It's called society and the pressures from it. I would assume that [the Forum] has changed the minds of many kids to go away from what they wanted to do to their car (body kit, blah blah blah) because people on this site hate that. They will instead turn away from their wants to fit in. It's the constant strive to fit in and feel accepted by those that you admire or respect - that [consequently] causes you to turn away from what you want and do what is accepted by your social group."  

The AutoWeek Combustion Chamber's KevLang reason to hate is less philosophical: " This Buick ran over my cat when I was a little kid. Man, I hate that Buick." - RN  Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.




Jon Heder & a '67 Camaro at the GM Ten show (Wunderlich photo) REASONS WHY PEOPLE HATE CERTAIN CARS October 12, 2005 People can love or hate certain cars for a multitude of reasons. Some of the reasons are rooted in history, like an LA Car staff member's Jewish American father who, for years, refused to purchase any German cars. Or another staff member's late Chinese American father who refused to purchase any Japanese cars for similar reasons.  One of my relatives has a fondness for old Toyota Land Cruisers. Why? Her childhood years were spent in Africa, and Land Cruisers used to roam the countryside of her home.  Some people hate certain cars because of their perception of the owners who drive them (e.g., see Are BMW Drivers A-Holes?). Reader Robert James wrote in to explain why he hates old Camaros and Datsun Z cars: "I had an immediate hate for the Datsun Z. It was a wannabe sports car when it first came out. I know many people liked it, but I just had the perception that it did not measure up to the other sports cars of its time." 

As for the Camaro, James writes, "I didn't like it because I saw a bunch of high school and college age kids consumed by the car - to the point where it became their identity and measuring stick for what's important in life. It was like a phallic symbol or gun, but on wheels." "These were just gut reactions, with no real thought or analysis behind it, says James. "But even to this day, I don't like these cars."  One wonders if there's a whole generation of Honda Civic "rice rocket" haters that will hold similar sentiments 35 years from now. - RN  Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.



"Stanley" the VW robot car crosses the DARPA finish line. STANFORD TEAM'S ROBOTIC TOUAREG WINS THE DARPA OFF-ROAD RACE October 10, 2005 In a race that began and ended in a casino parking lot and traversed 132 miles of desert southwest of Las Vegas on Oct. 8, the Stanford Racing Team's autonomous robotic car, Stanley, won big. The artificially intelligent car traversed the off-road course in a little less than seven hours, yielding both a $2 million payout and a lofty place in the history of robotics and technology.  "The impossible has been achieved," said team leader Sebastian Thrun, an associate professor of computer science and director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Simply by finishing the course, Stanley and four other cars showed that machines can be made to drive safely and speedily over rugged terrain without any human help.  Stanley earned the prize and the glory in a contest sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) because the modified Volkswagen Touareg completed the rugged, off-road course with the quickest time, 6:53:58. Only four other cars of the 23 in contention managed to finish. Two cars from Carnegie Mellon University followed Stanley with times of 7:04:50 and 7:14:00. In a poignant victory, a team hailing from Metairie, La., finished in 7:30:16. Some team members had lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina and the entire team lost precious practice time because of the storm.  The last vehicle to finish ## a yellow behemoth of a military truck named Terramax ## did not do so until the morning of Oct. 9. DARPA officials forced it to pause repeatedly during its run, and eventually overnight, in part because of the breakdown of its human-driven "chase" vehicle. Because of the overnight delay, DARPA ultimately could not provide official times for all participants and declare Stanley the winner until almost 24 hours after it crossed the finish line.  Thrilled with Stanley's performance, the Stanford team members didn't seem glum about having to wait. In addition to dozens of Stanford faculty, students and staff from the School of Engineering, the team included a large contingent of engineers from supporter Volkswagen of America's Electronics Research Lab. Other key supporters included the Palo Alto venture capital firm MDV-Mohr Davidow Ventures, energy drink maker Red Bull and tech startup Android.  The thrill of the race  Without knowing whether it was the overall winner, the Stanford team Saturday still had the unique joy of being the first to celebrate finishing the course, and the group took full advantage. Stanley cruised across the finish line early in the afternoon. As DARPA Director Tony Tether waved the checkered flag, the team and the packed grandstand roared. Team members poured two enormous Red Bull cans containing ice water over Thrun's head and shortly after, Thrun and postdoctoral researcher Mike Montemerlo were hoisted aloft in a sleep-deprived frenzy of jubilance and relief and riding on the shoulders of their teammates.  "We had a good day," Thrun said playfully after a throng of media perched on a nearby platform pressed him to say something. In short order he was bobbing in a sea of interviewers, with fuzzy boom microphones floating over his head like a swarm of flying squirrels.  Stanley was the second vehicle to leave the starting line, five minutes after Carnegie Mellon University's H1ghlander Hummer and five minutes before that university's second entry, Sandstorm. Sandstorm was the most successful robot during the first Grand Challenge last year, when it traversed less than 8 miles of a 170-mile course.  For most of the race Stanley trailed CMU's hulking red H1ghlander until just past the 100-mile mark, when Stanley overtook the lagging Hummer. By erasing CMU's head start, Stanley vaulted into front-runner status.  It was not much later that Stanley wowed the crowd again when it headed into Beer Bottle Pass, a treacherous and windy mountain pass with sharp turns and sharper cliffs along one side of the road. Via a DARPA live video feed from the entrance to the pass, spectators could see Stanley drive into view, rounding the corner smoothly, as if the robot had not only artificial intelligence but real confidence.  Smart brain, strong body  Stanley got that smart by learning during countless hours of desert testing in the months leading up to the race. Equipped with a wide variety of sensors and a heap of custom-written software including machine learning algorithms, Stanley grew smarter with practice. Eventually it became a master of finding the path, detecting obstacles and avoiding them while staying on course.  Applications of the technology could range from the development of unmanned ground vehicles for dangerous military missions to driver assistance systems that keep civilian drivers, passengers and pedestrians safe.  Those applications, however, will have to wait. After a grueling 18 months of development, culminating in a 4 a.m. wake-up call to start Saturday's race, Thrun said, "The next challenge is to get some sleep."  To view a video of Stanley, the robotic VW Touareg, click here Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.




Kelly Blue Book announces the top resale value awards at the CIAS "THE BIG ONE" IN THE OC October 5, 2005 First the bad news: The hoopla factor is lower than years past. No Motor Trend SUV of Year announcement. No Motor Trend design contest. In fact, although it's still part of Motor Trend Auto Shows, Inc., Motor Trend's presence at the California International Auto Show in Anaheim, California is conspicuously absent.   Now the good news: If you're in the vicinity of Southern California, the California International Auto Show is still the best place right now to see all the new cars under one roof. And as the first major-market auto show of the 2006 model year seasons, there's still plenty of hoopla to go around. Vehicles making their North American debut include the new Volkswagen Passat, the Ford Explorer Sport Trac, Honda Civic Si, Jaguar XK Coupe and Volvo9 C70. Making their West Coast debut are the pre-production Saturn Auro and Sky, and the Nissan Azeal. The Auto Show Underground features the latest in aftermaket accessories. The show is from October 5th through the 9th - with Sunday, October 9th having the largest hoopla factor. For a look at some scenes from the show, click here. 

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



1:18 Ferrari 166 Mille Miglia Hot Wheels ( photo) HOT WHEELS FASTER THAN EVER October 1, 2005 Today, Mattel rolls out its 2006 Hot Wheels basic car assortment at retailers nationwide, featuring a series of "Faster Than Ever" cars.  Identified by the orange-colored stamping on their five-spoke wheels, Faster Than Ever cars feature special nickel-plated axles to reduce friction, making these 1:64-scale beauties faster than the previous version of the same cars.  The 2006 lineup of 224 cars will be released in waves throughout the next 12 months. Included in the lineup are 38 2006 First Editions models, 12 Treasure Hunt and five Mystery Cars. Over 60 different Faster Than Ever models will be released.  "The Faster Than Ever cars not only roll faster than other cars, but they call attention to the entire 2006 basic car assortment of licensed vehicles," says Marketing VP Doug Wadleigh. "Kids and collectors who love Hot Wheels will find the Faster Than Ever cars to be exciting additions to their growing car collections."  The manufacturer's suggested retail price for Hot Wheels(R) basic cars is $1. Since being introduced in 1968, more than three billion Hot Wheels(R) cars have been produced, greater than the total production of Detroit's "Big Three" automakers combined.  Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.





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 more often, since we will post new blog entries virtually every day or so (well, there will be occasional vacation breaks).

So, go ahead and bookmark 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: September 2005 August 2005 July 2005 June 2005 May 2005 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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