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Published on Sun, Apr 1, 2007

By: The LACar Editorial Staff


This won't come as a complete surprise to readers of LA Car, but Honda and Toyota left Detroit's Big Three in the dust in the Union of Concerned Scientists' (UCS) latest biennial ranking of the greenest automakers. For the fourth time in a row, Honda topped the science organization's rankings as the country's greenest automaker. However, Toyota lost by only a nose, surging to second place by making significant cuts in global warming pollution. Hyundai-Kia, Nissan and Volkswagen were in the middle of the pack, coming in third, fourth and fifth, respectively. Ford and General Motors, meanwhile, were at the back, and DaimlerChrysler placed last, earning the USC's Rusty Tailpipe Award as the dirtiest automaker. "There is a huge gap between the cleanest and dirtiest automakers," said Don MacKenzie, author of the report and a vehicles engineer with UCS. "The winners are using clean technology across their entire fleets. The losers are installing it piecemeal, or not at all." MacKenzie analyzed the performance of 10 classes of vehicles produced by the eight automakers which comprise 96 percent of the U.S. car and light truck market in model year 2005. Each automaker was rated on how its vehicles compared to the industry average on global warming and smog-forming pollution. Cars and light trucks account for 25 percent of the nation's global warming pollution and 20 percent of its smog-forming pollution. Honda and Toyota had better-than-average global warming scores in every class in which they competed. Despite producing pickup trucks and large SUVs, Toyota's use of emissions-cutting technology across its entire fleet helped it to pull up just behind Honda, which did not compete in these vehicle classes. "Toyota's ranking shows that size is no excuse for a dirty fleet," MacKenzie said. "All of the automakers have the technology today to make all of their vehicles, from two-seaters to four-by-fours, a lot cleaner. And given the Supreme Court ruling confirming carbon dioxide and other global warming emissions are pollutants, it's likely that federal or state efforts will succeed in requiring automakers to put that technology to work." Ford was the cleanest of the Detroit automakers, finishing sixth. But if Ford had made the same progress cutting global warming pollution in its U.S. fleet as it has with its European fleet, it would have finished in fifth. GM, which placed last in UCS's 2003 model rankings, moved past DaimlerChrysler by reducing its fleet's smog-forming emissions. But the country's largest automaker failed to improve its global warming pollution score since the last UCS automaker rankings. In model year 2005, GM had the dubious distinction of selling the most vehicles rated at 15 miles per gallon or worse in city driving. DaimlerChrysler came in dead last with the worst scores for both smog and global warming pollution. Its cars and trucks emit 70 percent more smog-forming pollutants and nearly 30 percent more global warming pollutants per mile than those made by Honda. "Americans are paying closer attention to their personal environmental impact, and they want greener cars," said Ted Grozier, an associate at the environmental strategy consulting firm GreenOrder. "The successful automaker is going to figure out a way to deliver those cars to consumers." The UCS analysis showed hybrids helped improve environmental performance while diesels generally held automakers back. Volkswagen's diesel engines, for example, slightly improved its global warming score, but significantly dragged down its smog score. Hybrids, meanwhile, helped Toyota cut its global warming pollution fleetwide because the company produced them in large numbers. Honda and Ford, which produced fewer hybrids, did not see the same improvement. To view more information on the rankings, go to Clean Vehicles Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor

NAKANO: BACK SEAT DRIVING WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS STAYS IN VEGAS BUT MAYBE NOT YOUR CAR April 26, 2007 What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, according to the city's promotions - but that might not apply to your car. According to a survey released on Tuesday by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) and reported by Reuters, Las Vegas is the metro area with the highest rate of vehicle theft in the United States. In second place came Stockton, California, followed by Visalia-Porterville, California, and Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale in Arizona. Modesto, California, which topped the list for three consecutive years as the area with the worst per capita vehicle theft rate, fell to the number five position. "As in 2005, the western United States still ranks as the area of the country with the highest auto theft rates. All of the nation's top ten areas are in the west with five of them in California," the NICB said in a statement. The NICB says 22,441 vehicles were stolen in Las Vegas-Paradise in 2006, which gave it the highest theft rate. The rate is determined by the number of theft per 100,000 inhabitants. The Bureau said it reviewed data supplied by the National Crime Information Center for each of the nation's 361 metropolitan statistical areas for its annual vehicle theft survey. - Roy Nakano Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor

NAKANO: BACK SEAT DRIVING TOYOTA TOPS GM IN FIRST QUARTER 2007 TOYOTA OVERTAKES GM AS WORLD'S LARGEST CARMAKER April 24, 2007 It's been predicted for months, and it's finally come to fruition: Toyota Motor Corporation became the world's top selling automaker in the first quarter of 2007, overtaking US rival General Motors - in part due to the brisk demand for fuel-efficient cars, says Daniel Rook of AFP. Japan's top automaker sold 2.348 million vehicles in the first quarter of 2007, a company spokesman said, beating GM which earlier reported record global sales of 2.26 million cars and trucks for the same period. Toyota also reported global production of about 2.367 million vehicles for the first quarter, while GM has forecast lower output of 2.335 million units. "Toyota is enjoying strong sales, particularly in the United States, as higher prices at the pump boost demand for compact cars, small sport utility vehicles and hybrids which use a mix of electricity and petrol," says Rook. "The results mark the first time Toyota has beat GM in global sales on a quarterly basis, reports Hans Greimel of the Associated Press. "While the figures represent only quarterly sales results, they foreshadow a tough challenge for GM as it fights to hold onto it title as world's top automaker - a claim usually staked on annual production figures." "In terms of earnings and cash-flow, Toyota has been already by far the strongest company globally for a long time," said Tatsuya Mizuno, an analyst who covers the auto sector for Fitch Ratings. "I think that the current trend will continue, led by strong customer support for compact fuel efficient and environmental friendly cars," he told AFP. So what does Toyota say about all of this? "Our goal has never been to sell the most cars in the world," said company spokesman Paul Nolasco to AP. "We simply want to be the best in quality. After that, sales will take care of themselves." According to AP, Ayako Uchida, a GM spokeswoman in Japan, declined to comment on the figures but said her company's sales results were preliminary and not yet final. - Roy Nakano Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor


MTV'S "Pimp My Ride" and the nation's leading biodiesel producer, Imperium Renewables, have partnered to turn an American classic into a Green Machine, and California Governor Schwarzenegger, stopped by to help celebrate the achievement. As part of a special Earth Day episode airing April 22nd and repeated throughout the week, the "Pimp My Ride" crew cut gave an ecological conversion to a 1965 Chevy Impala so the car can run on pure biodiesel. Imperium founder, John Plaza, and CEO, Martin Tobias, are joining MTV and Galpin Auto Sports in delivering the message that going green doesn't mean having to sacrifice fun or performance, and the result is an 800 horsepower biodiesel "Clean Machine" that achieves a claimed 25 miles per gallon. For this episode, "Pimp My Ride" invited The Governator to help promote the environmental message. "You can have an engine that's fast and furious and still reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 30 to 40 percent," Schwarzenegger declares for the cameras. "This is the future." "Once pilloried for driving his Hummer (he now has hydrogen and biodiesel models), Schwarzenegger is out to prove that environmentalism and hedonism can coexist," reports Karen Breslau of Newsweek. "That was the point of doing the show," he says to Breslau. The special episode airs on Earth Day, April 22 as part of the thinkMTV ( year long, 12-step campaign "Break The Addiction" designed to engage, empower, and educate young people to make smart, everyday choices that both improve their life and help to curb the impact of climate change and preserve the environment. The episode will also air on MTV2 and MTV Tr3s, and appear on MTV as the kick-off of a "Pimp My Ride" Sneak Peek marathon featuring all new episodes of the MTV hit series beginning at 1pm ET/PT on Sunday, April 22nd, and repeating throughout the week. - Roy Nakano Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor NAKANO: BACK SEAT DRIVING CARMAKER ARGUES FINANCIAL WOES TO REDUCE PUNITIVES April 20, 2007 Evidently, there can always be an upside to financial woes. Here's one case where it can have a positive outcome for a carmaker: Ford Motor Company was evidently spared a monster punitive damages verdict in an SUV rollover case because its lawyer was allowed to tell jurors about the carmaker's dire financial straits and mass layoffs. That's according to a report by Charles Toutant of the New Jersey Law Journal. "The Middlesex County, N.J., jury on Wednesday awarded only $42,500 in punitives, despite having found Ford liable for $10.6 million in compensatory damages to a paralyzed driver," says Toutant. For more details about the case, see LA Car's Automotive Law section. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor


Ford management continues to think of ways to turn around the company's image. The number-two U.S. automaker has taken a sales hit in recent years, with a commensurate loss in billions of dollars. The solution, among other things, is for employees to promote the company when talking with other employees and non-employees. That was the word Friday from Mark Fields, Ford's executive vice president for the Americas, in his weekly email to employees. "Each of us is a walking advertisement for the company to the world around us. We need to take this role very seriously as we speak with our co-workers, our neighbors and everyone with whom we associate," said the Fields email, according to the Detroit News. Fields' charge to the troops was a reiteration of a Webcast message to employees earlier in the week from Ray Day, Ford's executive director of global automotive communications. Say nice things about Ford. I'm sure some people at Ford would see this as a great campaign. It's simple. Direct. Clear. Almost quaint. And it's reminiscent of a longstanding slogan in the Motor City, "Say Nice Things About Detroit" which first was used by civic boosters in the 1970s. At the time, the city seemed to be crumbling, in the wake of the 1967 riots, flight to the suburbs, and the 1973 oil embargo, which knocked the auto industry into recession. But there was hope the city could be revitalized. "Say Nice Things About Detroit" was blazoned on t-shirts, bumper stickers, banners and even painted on the sides of buildings. And it's still used in Detroit today. And that begs the question, how effective has the slogan been? Detroit's never been in worse shape, and the slogan apparently has done nothing to mend the city's woes. An advertising adage says, "Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising." Many residents of Motown's suburbs enticed to downtown Detroit ## for shopping, music, restaurants, sports, a festival or other activity ## more often than not were disappointed. High crime, dilapidated buildings, and a paucity of options left them underwhelmed. For metro Detroiters, the phrase is empty. Anyone who says nice things about Detroit lacks credibility. A similar fate could befall Ford employees who talk up their company artificially. Ford's image will be improved by substance, not empty words. Ford should proclaim good news, but there's little to be gained from employees talking about how great the band sounds if the ship is sinking. What Ford needs is enticing vehicles, efficient manufacturing, globally unified product development and effective marketing, among other things. Forget prompting employees to talk nice about the company. Take care of the important things, and getting employees to proclaim company successes will take care of itself. If executives at Ford don't have better things to do than implore employees to talk up the company, then I'm afraid Ford may be in worse shape than the headlines say it is. - BT Justice Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor


Ferrari announced today it has signed a contract with Aldar, a leading Abu Dhabi property company, to create a Ferrari theme park within the Yas Island project. The ceremony took place this afternoon in Sakhir, which is currently hosting the Bahrain Formula 1 Grand Prix, in the presence of Ferrari C.E.O. Jean Todt and Aldar C.E.O. Ronald Barrott. "The agreement that has been signed today strengthens our ties with Abu Dhabi which is already one of our shareholders and a sponsor of the Scuderia through the Mubadala company," commented Jean Todt. "The park will constitute an amazing opportunity to experience the world of Ferrari and to appreciate the values that have made the Prancing Horse a unique marque around the world. We are happy to embark on this project with Aldar, a company in the vanguard of its sector of activity which also shares our philosophy of striving for excellence." "This partnership with Ferrari will allow Aldar to create an attraction for Abu Dhabi, which will have something for all the family and will also highlight the already close relationship between Ferrari and Aldar," said Ronald Barrott. "Abu Dhabi is a rapidly expanding market and Formula 1 is an integral part of this commercial growth. Aldar has put a great deal of effort into Formula 1 with the development in progress on the island of Yas, but our collaboration with Ferrari intensifies this involvement and increases the profile and outreach of our company." Work on the island has already started and the Ferrari park, which will cover an area of 250,000 square meters, will be one of the main attractions. Ferrari hopes it will be a unique combination of fun and entertainment and boast 24 attractions aimed at the family, a driving school and virtual simulation rides, as well as merchandising areas for all those wishing to be fully immersed in the Ferrari experience. Part of the circuit, that as from 2009 will host the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix will be integrated with the Ferrari Driving School Experience at the theme park. European car companies are no strangers to combining the automotive product and theme park concepts. Volkswagen's Die Glaserne Manufaktur (The Transparent Factory) in Dresden, for instance, has been a widely popular attraction for families and tourists in Germany. - Roy Nakano Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor


With reports that carpool stickered Priuses fetching $4000 more on the used car market than unstickered cars, it was bound to happen. According to Gary Richards of the Mercury News, Tanya Cecchin was cruising on the Capitol Expressway carpool lane, when she spoted a San Jose motorcycle cop's flashing lights in the rear-view mirror of her sand-colored Prius. "Silly officer," she later tells Richards. "Doesn't he see my carpool-lane stickers?" No, he didn't. The reason? Tanya's stickers on had evidently been stolen. Ticket book in hand, the officer was ready to write a $360 ticket before Cecchin jumped out of her car. "I told him I really had the stickers and he was saying prove it." Fortunately, Cecchin was carrying the DMV's carpool registration card. "He was so nice," Cecchin told the Mercury News. "He felt really sorry for me and advised me not to use the carpool lane until I had new stickers." The Department of Motor Vehicles reports that it's receiving two to three dozen requests a month for replacement stickers from hybrid owners who say their stickers have been literally ripped off. It was only a matter of time. Now that the DMV has ceased issuing the stickers, existing stickers are becoming a precious commodity. - Roy Nakano Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor

NAKANO: BACK SEAT DRIVING ODDS-MAKERS BET ON GLOBAL WARMING April 9, 2007 Global warming has been escalating for years, but only recently was it brought to the public eye via entertainment and politics. Debates between political figures, documentaries and drastic weather changes have global warming at the forefront of the public minds. As the public gets a firm grasp on the severity of the matter, some argue whether global warming exists, or if it is only a theory. Regardless, one thing remains certain say the experts: Nature is changing and the changes are causing world-wide problems. As the topic gets hotter,, an online sportsbook, posted odds on global warming and its affects on nature. "If it is not global warming, something else is going on" said spokesman Reed Richards. "It's April and the North is still wearing clothes like it's December." Analysts at posted the following odds on the Global Warming: It's proven that global warming exists (beyond any scientific doubt) before 12/31/07 Yes - 1/5 It's proven that humans caused global warming (beyond any scientific doubt) before 12/31/07 Yes - 2/1 The ocean will rise six inches by the end of the year (worldwide as an average) Yes - 150/1 Polar Bears become extinct by 2010 Yes - 100/1 A car will hit the market that runs solely on water by 2008 (Must be a stock car produced for mass consumption) Yes - 150/1 Antarctica becomes livable for humans by 2015 (must be able to sustain crops in order for wager to win) Yes - 500/1 Humans find a way to reverse global warming so efficiently that Global Freezing becomes a factor by 2020 Yes - 300/1 doesn't say how one cashes in on these odds. - Roy Nakano Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor

NAKANO: BACK SEAT DRIVING THE AUTOBAHN AND GLOBAL WARMING LAWMAKERS DISCUSS IMPOSING A SPEED LIMIT April 6, 2007 The discussion on global warming has entered the fast lane of the autobahn. According to an Associated Press report, a European Union official has called on Germany to impose speed limits on the autobahn to fight global warming, a demand that drew angry responses in a country that cherishes what it calls "free driving for free citizens." The call came as the German government makes action against climate change a priority based on directives of the EU and Group of Eight. Still, the German environment minister showed little enthusiasm for EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas' suggestion and a group representing the country's auto industry said it needed "no coaching on efficient climate protection from Brussels." Many stretches of German autobahn lack speed limits - traditionally a cherished freedom in a rule-bound country. However, growing concern over carbon-dioxide emissions is putting that tradition under renewed scrutiny. "There are so many areas in which we waste energy in a completely senseless way and burden the climate," Dimas told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. "A simple measure in Germany could be a general speed limit on highways," he added, according to the newspaper. "Speed limits make a lot of sense for many reasons and are completely normal in most EU states, as in the U.S.A. - only in Germany, strangely, is it controversial." Dimas' comments drew a slew of largely negative responses Sunday on the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung's Internet site. One respondent described the debate as a "farce" and questioned the environmental record of Dimas' native Greece. Another demanded "free driving for free citizens" - quoting one of Germany's most popular and well-known slogans. The German Association of the Automotive Industry, which represents an industry that includes Volkswagen, BMW, Porsche and DaimlerChrysler, said Germany needed "no coaching" from Brussels on how to protect the climate - "above all when the proposals are only symbolic." "The German auto industry will act on climate change where there is real potential for savings of vehicle emissions," the group said in a statement. Germany's Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that he has "nothing against (a limit) for reasons of traffic safety" but argued that the restriction would not encourage manufacturers to produce more environment-friendly engines. "This is a secondary front and a trivialization of the climate problem," he said at an event in Hamburg. A spokesman for the Transport Ministry, Dirk Inger, said a study by a federal agency had found that an overall autobahn limit of 100 kph - or 62 mph - would reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by only 0.6%. Each 5 mph a car drives over 60 mph reduces fuel economy by 10%, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The impact of an autobahn speed limit on the specialty-equipment industry could be negligible, as its unlikely a speed limit will curb the German passion for car customizing. But some consumers may think twice about buying a supercharger kit for their base Volkswagen. Germans may be becoming receptive to the idea, however. Last month, a survey by the Forsa institute for Stern magazine found that 60 percent would favor autobahn speed limits to cut emissions, while 38 percent would oppose them. The survey of 1,001 people gave a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. "I like to drive fast on the autobahn - sometimes I drive up to 200 (125 mph) - but if it is for the sake of the environment, I don't mind slowing down," said Thorsten Einig, 36, an information technology product manager in Karlsruhe who owns a BMW. "I think anyone with half a brain understands that we all have to change our habits in order to limit the greenhouse gases." - Roy Nakano Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor


While buyers of used Toyota Priuses are paying upwards of $4,000 extra for a car with California single-occupancy carpool access stickers (see March 28th Back Seat Driving), a number of daring motorists are taking their chances in the high-occupancy vehicle lane with neither carpool nor carpool sticker. The math is on their side. $341 is the price of being in the California carpool lane illegally. And that's assuming you get caught. One will have to get caught many times before accruing enough fines to match $4,000. "I do my violating in the early morning," says Robert Castro. "With daylight savings time kicking in early, you'd have to have infrared vision in order to tell who has a carpool and who doesn't." Castro is a single-occupant carpool lane driver, but doesn't have a car that qualifies for single-occupant access. "By staying out of congested lanes, I figure I'm doing my duty to lessen the congestion," says Castro "Not only that, my car is polluting less when I'm not sitting in congested traffic. Yeah, that's right, I'm doing it for the environment." "Diamond-lane cheaters are the bane of law-abiding motorists, who often fume at the sight of solo drivers illegally zipping past freeway congestion. But turning drivers into rolling tattlers is the wrong approach," says the Press-Enterprise in a recent editorial. It's evidently the sentiment of the law-abiding drivers that is driving California Senate Bill 889, by Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria. The bill awaits consideration by the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, and would set up a hot line and e-mail address for motorists to report solo drivers who travel in the carpool lanes. "Maldonado says he's tired of fielding constituent complaints about carpool cheaters, reports the Press-Enterprise. "And he notes that Washington state has used a similar program to cut its number of carpool cheaters in half." Whether such a law will deter violators such as Castro remains to be seen. "Getting a warning before getting a citation? That might just encourage me to do it in the afternoon as well," says Castro. Your Back Seat Driving comments can be sent to: Letter to the Editor

BT JUSTICE: BACK SEAT DRIVING NEW CONTRACT BETWEEN BIG 3 AND UAW Innovative agreement cinched by Wal-Mart inclusion April 1, 2007 The winds of change blew like a hurricane though Detroit this morning. The new agreement between the Big Three automakers, the United Autoworkers, and Walmart mark a turning point in cooperation and competitiveness in the automotive world. Be sure to read the stunning report: Breaking News. More details of the new agreement will be released tomorrow.

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


LA Car

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 week-to-week, 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: March 2007 February 2007 January 2007 December 2006 November 2006 October 2006 September 2006 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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