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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 1, 2006

By: The LACar Editorial Staff


California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 2600, extending the use of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes by single-occupant drivers of certain hybrid vehicles. The law raises the hybrid HOV sticker ceiling from 75,000 to 85,000. In addition, it extends single-occupancy use to January 1, 2011. The bill is authored by Assembly Member Ted Lieu of Torrance, CA. Single-occupancy hybrid access is limited to hybrid vehicles that carry an EPA rating of 45 miles per gallon or more. In addition, cars produced during the 2004 model year or earlier must be classified Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles (ULEV) or better. Hybrid cars produced after 2004 must meet California's Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (AT PZEV) standards. Among new hybrids, only the Honda Civic Hybrid, Honda Insight and Toyota Prius qualify for the requisite HOV sticker. The law also extends single-occupancy HOV access to inherently low emission vehicles (ILEVs). Honda's compressed natural gas-powered Civic GX is an example of a vehicle that meets ILEV standards and can qualify for an HOV access sticker. For the official narrative accompanying the AB 2600 and the new law, go to LA Car's Automotive Law Page. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor


LONDON - Jack Neal briefly became the proud owner of a pink convertible car after he managed to buy it for 9,000 pounds ($17,000) on eBay, reports Reuters. In this day and age, more people are turning to the Internet for automotive purchases. What makes this transaction particularly unusual, however, is that Jack Neal is only three years old. Jack's mother informed the BBC she had left her password for the eBay auction site in her computer and her son used the "buy it now" option to complete the purchase. "Jack's a whizz on the PC and just pressed all the right buttons," Rachel Neal said. Reuters reports that the seller of the second-hand car, a dealer from Worcestershire, central England, was amused by the bid and agreed not to force the sale through. Said the older Neal, "Luckily he saw the funny side and said he would re-advertise," reports Reuters. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor

2007 Toyota Corolla Matrix, built in the NUMMI plant in Fremont, CA. ROY NAKANO: BSD MAYBE IT'S TIME TO START WORRYING September 23, 2006 Ford's financial troubles have been well-publicized ever since it announced its Way Forward initiative at the beginning of 2006. What's been less publicized is that the Chrysler Group is going through some of the same troubles. Last week, the Chrysler Group said it will report a loss for this summer of $1.5 billion, more than double what it had originally anticipated. No doubt, it's been pummeled by the decline in sales of big sport utility vehicles and trucks just like its counterparts at Ford and General Motors. What may be more surprising is the lack of new small cars coming from the Big Three to address the changing buying habits of the American consumer. Sources in the Chrysler Group informed the New York Times' Micheline Maynard that DaimlerChrysler, its parent company, signaled that it did not see how to build a subcompact car profitably in North America, forcing it to turn to China or another Asian carmaker to help build one overseas. Of course, Toyota has been producing subcompacts in its Fremont, California since 1986 (and presumably doing so profitably). Should Chrysler decide that it has to go overseas to meet the latest demands of American car buyers, it will make for a very different-looking car company from this long-time American brand name. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor

ROY NAKANO: BSD GOVERNOR SIGNS BILL TO BAN HOLDING CELL PHONES WHILE DRIVING September 16, 2006 It's official. Yesterday, California banned motorists from talking on cell phones unless they use a headset or speakerphone. The law will not take effect until July 1, 2008. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who signed the measure, cited government data showing those who held their phones while driving were involved in 15 times more accidents than those with hands-free setups. "The simple fact is that it is really dangerous to talk on a cell phone and drive at the same time," said the Governor. "It's very important for people to know ... stop using the cell phone right now, because you are putting people at risk." Violators will be fined $20 the first time they are caught and $50 the second time. The actual cost to violators will be higher, since police will be able to tack on administrative charges. The new law makes exemptions for those placing emergency calls while driving. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor


California is about to ban the most popular form of electronic entertainment in cars today. No, not morning talk radio. Hand-held cell phones. Many so-called studies have been bandied about to back up supporters and detractors of cell phone bans. In the end, two appeared to be the most persuasive to California lawmakers: One is by the Accident Analysis and Prevention journal that concludes the risk of death is nine times greater for drivers who use a cell phone while driving. The second is from the California Highway Patrol's own data from 2004, which shows police reports for 775 accidents in which a driver at fault was using a hand-held cell phone. There were only 28 reports of accidents in which drivers using hands-free phones were to blame. Pundits have been predicting that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will veto any legislation banning hand-held cell phones while driving. However, yesterday, the governor's office said he will sign the bill in Oakland today, reports Nancy Vogel of the Los Angeles Times. "Under the new law, which does not take effect until July 2008, Californians risk a minimum $20 fine for driving while talking into a phone ## unless they are using a headset, speaker phone, ear bud or some other technology that frees both hands while they talk. Drivers in emergency situations would be exempt," according to the Times report. "Public safety is the governor's No. 1 priority," said Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Margita Thompson, "and this bill will make the streets and highways of California safer by ensuring that drivers have both hands available for driving." California will join New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and the District of Columbia in banning drivers from using hand-held cell phones. According to the Times, the bill's only official opponent was the Sprint-Nextel cellular phone company. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor

ROY NAKANO: BSD CALIFORNIA INTERNATIONAL AUTO SHOW BECOMES THE OC AUTOSHOW September 13, 2006 "If you can't beat 'em, move out of the way." That's what the organizers of the California International Auto Show must have been thinking when it decided to become The OC Autoshow. When the show arrives at the Anaheim Convention Center, October 4-8, 2006, the emphasis will be on new vehicles, concept cars and exotic vehicles. In other words, the shift will be toward the high end - a reflection of the image cast by the popular television show, The OC. No doubt, the change is in recognition of the fact that the 2007 Los Angeles Auto Show is moving from its traditional January slot up to early December 2006 (November for the press preview days). For the organizers of The OC Autoshow, it's a chance to break away from the sameness of auto shows throughout the country. The OC is home to numerous automotive design studios, not to mention an affluent community that can back such a move. Only time will tell if it succeeds. For more information about what's cooking in Anaheim, go to The OC Autoshow site Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor

ROY NAKANO: BSD PARIS HILTON HAS AN IN-N-OUT BURGER URGE September 9, 2006 Last year, Carl's Jr. ran a widely publicized commercial for its Spicy BBQ burger, featuring Paris Hilton (see LA Car's Snatching Victory From The Jaws of Defeat). Alas, it appears that Paris prefers In-N-Out over Carl's Jr. when it comes to burger urges. The preference was revealed when she was arrested in Hollywood for suspected drunk driving after attending a charity fundraiser party. "I was just really hungry and I wanted to have an In-N-Out Burger," Ms. Hilton told radio station KIIS-FM in an interview. "It was a startling admission from the 25-year-old Hilton, who was seen in a Carl's Jr. television commercial wearing a skimpy black bathing suit washing herself and a black Bentley while nibbling on the chain's Spicy BBQ Burger," says Los Angeles Times writer Jerry Hirsch. Evidently, Paris is no longer a celebrity endorser for the chain, and CKE Restaurants, which owns Carl's Jr., does not even have the rights to the commercial, company spokeswoman Anne Hallock informed Hirsch. The unexpected publicity given to In-N-Out Burger has the morning television shows talking. A few of the television hosts have seconded Ms. Hilton's unofficial endorsement of the fast food restaurant, which is little-known outside of California, Nevada, and Arizona. The family-owned chain remains a favorite among hamburger aficionados in the Southland. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor


We just reported on Lexus' new GS450h hybrid luxury sedan in our Auto Review section. By most accounts, it's a magnificent vehicle. A conventional V6 internal combustion engine combines with two electric motors to churn out 339 horsepower. The power combo propels this 4,134 pound vehicle (386 pounds more than the conventional gas-powered GS430) from 0-60 mph in 5.2 seconds. Lexus boasts that the car gets the gas mileage of a V6, while having the power and acceleration of a strong V8. The Environmental Protection Agency rates its gas mileage at 25 miles per gallon around town and 28 on the highway. Hello? Is this suppose to be good gas mileage? Is this suppose to make us feel good about decreasing our dependence on foreign oil or saving our planet? By way of comparison, note that the Volkswagen Passat Wagon also reported on these pages is EPA rated at 31 miles per gallon on the highway. Sure, the GS450h is faster, but it offers no more room than the Passat (and the later is not exactly slow). Here's another comparison: Our editor got better real world highway gas mileage in the 505-horsepower Corvette Z06. The other Lexus hybrid, the RX400h, has also been less-than-stellar in real world gas mileage returns. That's because both the RX400h and GS450h are hybrids tuned more to maximize power over fuel economy. The Honda Accord Hybrid is similarly tuned. The problem with this approach is that the performance advantage is short-lived. There are already several non-hybrid sedans on the market that are in the Accord Hybrid's price class that exceed its power (e.g., the new Passat V6, and even the new Toyota Camry V6), while returning similar gas mileage. The upshot of all this is that performance-tuned hybrids are really posers. If you want a car with a high 'feel good' factor, stick with the ones that offer genuine gas mileage advantages. If you want the extra performance, get a lighter car. If any Prius or Civic Hybrid owners out there dump their cars in favor of these pseudo-green machines, they should be taken to task. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor

2007 Passat Wagon 2.0T ROY NAKANO: BSD "SPORT UTILITY VEHICLES ARE NEITHER" September 4, 2006 This past weekend, I participated in KPFK's "Len Frank Day," which was hosted by The Car Show's John Retsek and featured a number of guests. Len Frank is the late and lamented co-host of KPFK's The Car Show, and more than one guest commented on Len's days racing Volvo station wagons. It prompted me to remember one of Len's favorite sayings relating to station wagons and SUVs. Back when SUVs were gaining popularity in this country, listeners called in to The Car Show to ask Len Frank what he thought about this new type of vehicle. "Sport utility vehicles are neither" was Frank's response. "The high center of gravity doesn't translate to sporty driving. The fact that the vehicle is so high off the ground also means it doesn't hold as much cargo as it appears. A well-designed station wagon can provide just as much useful space." Alas, not many headed the caveat. Sales of sport utility vehicles went through the roof, and the U.S. corporate average fuel economy of vehicles sank. Consumers bought into this new class of vehicle as if it was going out of style. And of course, it didn't. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration even had to come up with a new safety measure in response to the popularity of SUVs: The rollover test. Of course, SUVs have come a long way since they first started becoming popular. Lighter unibody designs, electronic stability control, and clever cargo options have gone a long way toward fulfilling the promise of sport and utility of SUVs. Nonetheless, skyrocketing gas prices are causing consumers to take a cold, hard view of sport utility vehicles. "Maybe I really don't need a three-ton behemoth to carry around my family of four" seems to be the thought that's going through many a mind these days. In the meantime, the station wagon is looking better than ever these days. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor


Be sure to tune in to KPFK-FM 90.7 on Saturday, September 2nd, 9:00-11:00 a.m., as it devotes the entire program to the life and times of Len Frank, the late and celebrated co-host of The Car Show. Several of Len's colleagues will be making their appearance on the show, including LA Car staff (scheduled for ~10:30-10:45). The late Len Frank is best known to Southern Californian enthusiasts as the irrepressible co-host of KPFK's The Car Show - the longest-running automotive program on the airwaves. From 1979 to 1996, Len dished our his unadulterated opinions on cars and car companies - a practice he shared with his Car Show founding co-host, John Retsek (and carried on by John's current co-host, Art Gould). In addition to his role on The Car Show, Len served on the editorial staff of countless automotive publications and served as the President of the Motor Press Guild. Before his journalism career, he owned a new car dealership (Saab and Peugeot), worked for the western Lotus distributor, ran an Alfa agency, and sold or serviced a number of European car makes. Len was also a pretty accomplished race car driver, spent a year studying transportation design at the Art Center College of Design, and received his master's degree at the University of Oregon. When he passed away in 1996, his friends and family held his memorial service at Willow Springs Raceway. In a ceremony that would have pleased Len, his ashes were released through the sunroof of a Porsche on the raceway's famed Turn Nine. To those who knew Len Frank or heard him over the airwaves, few could match his wealth of information on cars. He was a virtual automotive database before the advent of the Internet. Some of this information was captured on paper and collected onto a posthumous website entitled Look Down The Road (his signature signoff on The Car Show). After a few years, the website lost its corporate sponsorship, and, ultimately, was no longer accessible. A few years ago, I ran into colleague Scott Mead, who designed the original Len Frank website. It turns out that all the site files were still kept in a virtual vault by co-colleague Matt Stone, awaiting a new home. LA Car is honored to provide the home for Look Down The Road: The Writings of Len Frank. The site remains true to Scott Mead's original design, but we've added a few new stories. Actually, LA Car owes much of its existence to Len Frank and Car Show co-host John Retsek. The very first LA Car article, The Best Cars to Drive in Rush Hour Traffic, had its beginnings as a letter to The Car Show. Len and John devoted some air time to it, subsequently sponsored my membership into the Motor Press Guild, and the rest (more or less) is history. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor



That was LA Car's subtitle when it started back in 1997. Since then, La Car became LA Car. Its subtitle 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 one's own journal or diary. Now, the diary section 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 Back Seat Driving, a.k.a. BSD (note the similarity to two well-worn abbreviations, BS and BFD) and Live Wires - Hot & Tender News From the Car Culture (co-located with Back Seat Driving, and updated at least daily), 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 Live Wires and the latest Back Seat Driving 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: August 2006 July 2006 June 2006 May 2006 April 2006 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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