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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 Sun, Apr 2, 2006

By: The LACar Editorial Staff



In a significant shift in policy, the Bush administration has asked Congress to give it the authority to change fuel economy standards for passenger cars amid rising gas prices and growing concerns about the nation's energy security. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta wrote House and Senate leaders asking for Congress to - for the first time - allow it to create a similar program it recently completed for pickups, sport-utility vehicles and vans, reports the Associated Press. "Along with other previously announced energy policies, the president believes these actions are critical to promoting our nation's energy security and independence," Mineta wrote. Mineta told AP and other reporters that a simple increase in standards under the current Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) system "would increase fatalities on America's highways, raise health care costs and reduce employment. As a result, the administration would oppose any increase in passenger car CAFE standards without corresponding reform." In Biloxi, Miss., President Bush noted Congress was debating several energy-related concepts, "and one idea is to give me a capacity to raise CAFE standards on automobiles. I encourage them to give me that authority. It's authority that I use for light trucks. And I intend to use it wisely if Congress would give me that authority." Evidently, under law, the administration can change the system for light trucks but it's unclear if it can alter the requirements for passenger cars, which has been set by Congress. According to AP, Mineta made a similar request for the ability to change the system in 2002, but it did not advance. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.



By now, you're probably aware that the Ford Motor Company and Hertz Corporation teamed up to introduce the Shelby GT-H - a black Mustang GT fitted with a cold air induction kit, a muffler kit, a cat-back performance exhaust, the Ford Racing Handling Pack, and a Ford Racing 3.55:1 ratio rear-axle assembly. The engine breathing enhancements are good enough to boost the output to 325 horsepower (the lower axle ratio is said to make it feel more like 350 hp). The car harkens back to the 1966 Shelby GT350H, which was a rental vehicle available only through Hertz outlets. Stories of renters installing roll bars and racing tires, and then racing the hell out of the cars, uninstalling the roll bars, and returning it back to the rental agency in seemingly stock condition are now legendary. Like the original GT350H, the new GT-H comes in black with two gold stripes running down the top of the car. It's also fitted with a custom Shelby Performance hood with pins. A brushed-aluminum grille backs the running-horse emblem. A unique front fascia with integrated lower grille, as well as a set of body side scoops - reminiscent of classic Shelby Mustangs - is incorporated for a distinct look. To further catch the enthusiast's eye, the Mustang GT brakes are dressed up with painted calipers, which can be seen through the GT-H's 17-inch aluminum wheels wearing P235/55ZR17 performance rubber. All-in-all, it's a very impressive-looking package. Now the bad news: Only 500 will be made, and you can only get it as a rent-a-car at selected Hertz outlets. In other words, the car will be in production, but not for sale - at least not yet. Here's the good news: Ford cannot pass up a good thing when it's staring right in front of the Blue Oval. The Shelby GT-H was the hit of the New York Auto Show, topping various reader and visitor favorite car polls. The first year GT500s are already spoken for. Given this backdrop, I can virtually guaranty you that a production Shelby GT (with the "H" dropped) will be introduced for sale in the very near future. An introduction of the new GT at the 2007 Los Angeles Auto Show (in November-December of this year) will make a fitting introduction, don't you think?

Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.



How far are you willing to drive to work? For Dave Givens of Mariposa, California, the answer is 186 miles - one way - good enough to take first place in the search by Midas, Inc. for "America's Longest Commute." Givens out-drove thousands of other entrants to take home the grand prize of $10,000 in gas money as well as an array of Midas maintenance services and products. "He's the ultimate road warrior," said Rick Dow, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Midas. "We commend his perseverance and commitment to his job and to his family. We also want to lighten his load a bit by providing some gas money relief as well as some maintenance services and products to improve his mileage. Let's face it, he needs all the help he can get!" Givens, an electrical engineer with Cisco Systems, Inc., in San Jose, Calif., drives a 186-mile one-way commute five days a week, a round-trip journey of 372 miles that takes a total of seven hours. He has been making the lengthy commute since 1989. "I have a great job and my family loves the ranch where we live," he said in explaining why he makes the commute. "So this is the only solution." What does he do during his long trek? "I listen to the radio and keep my eyes on the road," he says. "I also drink a lot coffee." In addition to the cash grand prize, Givens received four Midas Touch Maintenance Packages including oil change, tire rotation and multi-point Courtesy Check, including a visual brake check, and four Bridgestone tires. The "America's Longest Commute" Contest, held in honor of Midas' 50th anniversary, drew close to 3,000 entries nationwide. "We were impressed with the responses," said Dow. "Apparently, there are a lot of Americans putting a lot of miles on their cars to get to the office each day. Consequently, it's more important than ever that commuters properly maintain their vehicles." The second place winner was Jeffrey Haussy of Georgetown, Ill., who drives a one-way daily commute of 175 miles to his job with American Airlines at O'Hare International Airport. The third place winner was Kay Phillips of Granite Falls, N.C., who drives 164.4 miles one-way to her job at the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Coalition of North Carolina. Both received the Midas Touch "Care Package for a Long Commute" including one Midas Touch Maintenance Package, a gift certificate for free coffee, a Midas travel coffee mug, plush car seat cover and neck pillow. Midas' "America's Longest Commute" Contest kicked off on Jan. 9 and ran through Feb. 6, 2006. Participants were asked to report the mileage of their current daily commute, defined as the most direct route, one way, in miles, from their principal place of residence to their principal place of lawful employment. To be considered, participants had to currently drive a minimum of four days a week, each week of the month, and have driven for a minimum of three months. Long distance cargo or other delivery and public transportation driving were not considered a daily commute. Motorcycles, buses, and all forms of public transportation were not eligible forms of transportation for daily commute. Fuel efficiency tips and maintenance information is available at the Midas website, at Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.



It appears we have reached a new milestone in gas prices. Reuters reports that the price of a gallon of high octane gas at a full service station in San Diego has topped $4 a gallon - $4.19 and 9/10s, to be more exact (see Reuters photo). Mind you, this is the price of premium gas at a full service station. With self-serve pumps for regular unleaded gas now topping $3.00, $4 a gallon may ultimately become the norm come summertime. And we thought $3.00 per gallon was hard to swallow. If this sustains itself, we can expect to see a further shift in sales away from large SUVs toward more economical cars. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.



Prosecutors have filed embezzlement, grand theft, drunk driving and weapons charges against former European video game executive Stefan Eriksson, report Richard Winton and David Pierson of the Los Angeles Times. Erikkson gained wide attention after his rare Ferrari Enzo crashed in Malibu back in February. The charges come as officials with Scotland Yard and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement continue to investigate the case, says Winton and Pierson. Eriksson pled not guilty through his attorney, who described the charges as "overblown." "It's amazing. If the guy didn't get into the wreck, none of this would have happened," said Malibu Mayor Andy Stern to the Times. The case seemingly stems from the 162-mph crash of the Enzo. However, LA Car has learned that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement started its investigation of Eriksson long before the crash. In an interview with the Times outside court, Eriksson's attorney David Elden described him as "totally innocent of all these charges." "The press has blown this out of proportion." he said, adding that Eriksson is in a dispute with the British financial institutions over ownership of the destroyed car as well as one other Ferrari Enzo and a Mercedes Benz McLaren SLR. For more background, see The Case of the Missing Ferrari Driver. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.



VW Launches New Jetta as a Sagitar in China First, Volkswagen decides to call its Golf model the Rabbit in North American markets. Now, word comes that VW will market its new Jetta as a Sagitar in China. The name is derived from Sagitarius, the astrological character depicted as a centaur (half human, half horse) archer. FAW-Volkswagen Automotive Co. Ltd., the Chinese joint venture between First Auto Works Group, Volkswagen AG and Audi AG, launches the new Sagitar as VW's new flagship in the Chinese market. Evidently, FAW-VW was compelled to use a new name, since FAW-VW also builds the previous-generation Jetta/Bora for the Chinese market. Volkswagen officials say ''saw-gee-tar'' in Mandarin can translate to mean "fast" or "gallop" which bodes well for car's sporty image. The company reportedly received 9,000 orders for the Sagitar before its official market introduction. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.



In a move that even surprised a number of personnel in the ranks of VW, Volkswagen of America announced that its new fifth generation Golf, which debuted at the 2006 Chicago Auto Show, is going back to the original Rabbit nameplate for the U.S. and Canadian markets. The Rabbit had its official introduction at the New York International Auto Show on April 12th. "The Rabbit was always exclusive to the U.S. and Canadian markets; while the rest of the world had the Golf, we had the iconic Rabbit" said Volkswagen's Director of Brand Innovation, Kerri Martin. "The reintroduction of the Rabbit represents Volkswagen's commitment to this market. Volkswagen customers want a relationship with their cars. Names like The Thing, Beetle, Fox, and Rabbit support this" Martin added. Perhaps even more surprising, the Rabbit goes on sale this summer with pricing starting at a very low $14,990. The solidly built Rabbit is expected to have a fit, finish and feel like no other car in its price range. Standard features will include an ABS braking system, traction control, active front head restraints, front side airbags, air conditioning and anti-theft alarm system with remote locking. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.



Los Angeles County Sheriff deputies have arrested Stefan Eriksson, the possessor of the Ferrari Enzo that crashed in Malibu. According to Los Angeles Times staff writers Richard Winton and David Pierson, Eriksson is being held on suspicion of grand theft, allegedly because he hadn't made payments on the Enzo or on two other cars. Detectives raided Eriksson's gated Bel-Air estate Friday night, spent six hours searching it and then took him into custody Saturday night, says Winton and Pierson. Los Angeles County sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore says they have concluded the wrecked Ferrari, as well as the SLR McLaren Mercedes and a second, black Enzo are actually owned by British financial institutions.; "The cars were purchased in Britain last year when Eriksson lived there. He apparently brought them to Los Angeles when he moved here. But financial institutions that held titles to the cars informed detectives that payments had lapsed, Whitmore said," reports Winton and Pierson. The arrest is the latest episode to what started as a mere exotic car crash on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. For more background, see The Case of the Missing Ferrari Driver. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.

New Eclipse Spyder ROY NAKANO: BSD SUDDENLY, CONVERTIBLES EVERYWHERE April 7, 2006 They used to say that the nation's economy went up and down in harmony with the fashion trends for women's skirts - i.e., that when fashion dictated a higher hemline, the economy was doing better. If a similar analogy can be made in connection with the number of convertibles offered by car manufacturer, then this country is in for some good times. It wasn't that long ago when affordable convertibles were few and far between. Suddenly, there are convertibles everywhere. From Mini, the nifty Mini Cooper convertible. From Pontiac comes the beautiful Solstice. From Saturn, the Sky. From Volkswagen, the Eos convertible hardtop. Meanwhile, the Mazda MX5 and Ford Mustang convertible are better than ever - and still affordable. Mitsubishi has enjoyed a bit of success with its high-styling new Eclipse. Recently, I had an opportunity to get behind the wheel of an Eclipse Spyder prototype. It looks like Mitsubishi has another winner on its hands. The Spyder not only retains the great lines of the coupe, it also seats four people - a rarity in this class. Moreover, the sophistication of it's convertible top operation would have been unheard of in this price bracket not too long ago. So many good choices. It's a buyers market for convertible shoppers. I'm banking on good times to roll in. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.



Okay, we just covered the worst-rated cars on the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy's (ACEEE's) Green Score, which rates vehicles on their overall impact on the environment. What about the best cars? We find some familiar faces at the top, like the Honda Insight, Civic GX, Toyota Prius, and Civic Hybrid. There are some pleasant surprises, however. For instance, General Motors has three cars counted amongst the greenest. There are two Korean-made cars on the list (Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio). The standard versions of the Civic and Corolla make it as well. Also on the list is the sporty Mazda3 (I can vouch for its frugality on sipping gas), and the versatile Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix twins. Rounding out the top 12 greenest vehicles are: Honda Insight and Civic GX (tied with a score of 57) Toyota Prius (55) Honda Civic Hybrid (53) Toyota Corolla (46) Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio (tied at 45) Mazda3, Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix and Honda Civic (tied at 44) Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion (tied at 43) You can get more information from the ACEEE's Green Book . Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.



No, it's not the automotive animation version of Mean Girls. And we're not talking about bad-ass American muscle cars (although there is some overlap). It's the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy's (ACEEE's) Green Score, which rates vehicles on their overall impact on the environment, with those earning the worst scores dubbed the meanest. This year, the honor goes to the Dodge Ram SRT10, which received the lowest ACEEE Green Score of any 2006 vehicle. The ACEEE's Green Score is a quantitative value of a vehicle's environmental friendliness, taking into account such factors as fuel economy, tailpipe emissions, and emissions of gases that are said to cause global warming. The higher the Green Score, the more environmentally friendly the vehicle is overall, according to the ACEEE. The lowest score goes to the Ram SRT10. Rounding out the top ten meanest vehicles are: Dodge Ram SRT-10 (with a score of 12) Lamborghini Murcielago (16) Bentley Arnage (17) Dodge Durango 4.7 V8 4WD (17) Dodge Ram 1500 4.7 V8 4WD (17) Maybach 57S (17) Hummer H2 (18) Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano (18) Ford F-250 Super Duty 5.4 V8 4WD (18) GMC Yukon XL 2500 4WD (18) Volkswagen Touareg V8 (18) Chevrolet Suburban 2500 4WD (19) You can get more information from the ACEEE's Green Book . Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor.


Flying Spur

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 semi-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 Back Seat Driving, a.k.a. BSD (note the similarity to two well-worn abbreviations, BS and BFD), we give you a reason to come back more often (all opinions, by the way, are those of the respective author). 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 Blog entries, click the following: March 2006 February 2006 January 2006 December 2005 November 2005 October 2005 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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