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BACK SEAT DRIVING - AUGUST 2008

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, Aug 1, 2008

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

HOT WIRES For hot and tender news wires on the car culture, see LA Car's Hot Wires Ford Delivers a Message for Today The New Number Three Carmaker Take A Kid To A Car Show The First Production Porsche to Appear at Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance

KENNEDY: BACK SEAT DRIVING FORD DELIVERS A MESSAGE FOR TODAY "I need a hybrid! Everyone's got one!" "If I get a hybrid, I'm going to save the earth!"

Escape Hybrid "Unless I get a hybrid, my kids won't be able to afford to go to college, because I will have spent all my money on gas taking them to soccer practice." Any of that run through your mind lately? If you're commuting to work more than a handful of miles, then you'll probably say yes. Who sells lots of hybrids? The first thing that pops into your head, most likely - "Toyota!" Or maybe even the model name, "Prius." Well, there are other players in the game, and Ford, for one, is busy getting out the message about what it has on offer. The company wants you to know that there's no real reason to panic, but that if you are biting your nails, they can help you get some relief from the gas cost crunch/environmental crisis. But the word they're spreading is not as simple as "We've got hybrids, too!" (Though they do).

Ford Escape Rather, it goes something like this: think about what you need and about what a variety of cars can do to help. If you want a hybrid, Ford can accommodate you. But if what you really need is a car that's good on gas and low on emissions, then they've got a huge list of PZEVs (Partial Zero Emission Vehicles) to choose from, many of which beat Prius on gas mileage. In simple terms: there's more to saving the planet, and your wallet, than buying a hybrid. And there's more in the Ford lineup than you might imagine. Fact: if you're driving a lot on the freeway, then you'll get better mileage out of a fuel-sipping small car than something like a Prius. That car, or any like it, is made to do well in the city, driving in stop-and-go traffic, generally under 30mph. Just because the Governator was giving out stickers for hybrids to use the carpool lane doesn't mean that that makes any engineering sense.

Ford Focus Consider that you could drive a Ford Focus from the company's West Coast HQ in Irvine to its Canadian head office in Oakville, Ontario, and create approximately as much smog-forming emissions material as using an old-style gasoline lawnmower for one hour. Or that you could drive for three hours in a PZEV Focus and create as much smog crud as if you grilled a burger in your backyard. The numbers add up to the fact that this new generation of small cars respect the planet in a way unimaginable even five years ago. As one Ford company publication says it, "PZEV: clean as a hybrid, practical, and affordable." Still got to have a Prius? By the time you make up the difference in gas costs over the cost of buying the Focus, many years will have passed. Still want a hybrid, but not wed to Toyota? Buy the Ford Escape Hybrid, which is the world's cleanest and most fuel-efficient SUV, and darn handsome to boot. Now, you might ask, what's got Ford so busy about spreading the word that there are a number of solutions to the fuel cost/environmental crisis? Because they're feeling the pain of an industry in serious decline, sales-wise. According to their western regional marketing guru, the industry numbers show that, while the average sales year-to-year have been about 17.3 million cars over the past few years, 2007 had sales of 16.5 million, and this year's numbers extrapolate to something like 12.6 million units if the summer's trends hold up (naturally, everyone in the car biz is hoping they'll improve).

Lincoln MKS In addition, what people are buying has changed quite a bit. Whereas Ford sold about 70 percent trucks and SUVs in 2004, in 2008, they're selling about 60 percent cars and crossovers. That's a quick turnaround for an industry whose product cycle is at least several years and which needs long lead times to change directions, but Ford's answers to the market's demands include a newly styled Focus Coupe, nicely tricked out for about $18 thousand bucks; the Escape Hybrid already mentioned, which runs on battery power up to about 30 mph; and the Flex, newly introduced and profiled at LA Car earlier this summer. But if gas mileage and/or large hauling capacity are not your interest (and hey, I drive 60s cars, so gas mileage isn't really something I spend time worrying about), then there are other things in the Ford lineup that might work for you. The company recently showed its new Lincoln MKS to journalists gathered at its Irvine HQ. Grabbing styling cues from older Lincoln models, the new car offers all the luxury touches with none of the boatishness of Lincolns past. It's a tight-driving car with amazing interior and lines that suggest solidity, a sense of what designer Freeman Thomas called "discreet wealth" the kind that the Camelot of JFK offered as a goal to an earlier generation.

Ford Edge Lincoln territory might not be for everyone, so smack in the middle of the road, price-wise, Ford offers what might be the best car in its lineup. The Edge is actually a crossover - offering truck-like utility on a car platform - and it starts at about $24,900. For $30, though, you can get the Limited model, which has 265hp and room for five. What will shock you about the Edge is how it drives. The thing feels fast. Faster, in fact, than the Lincoln (which has about the same HP, but is heavier). The Edge is nimble. And it's got lots of toys. It's an "LEV" (Low Emission Vehicle), and it gets 24 mpg on the highway. Plus, it looks cool. It's got the big Ford grille, but also nicely sculpted fender flares which blend down into the rocker panels. It's a choice you might consider if you're just doing too much stuff to get along with a really small and super-efficient vehicle. So there you have it - Ford's response to market conditions which have the auto industry in a dither and consumers in a frenzy as each responds to gas at four bucks a gallon and ice caps that are melting faster than the cubes in a Mai Tai in Palm Springs. Ford has answers that are varied, interesting, and confident, and their vehicles are worth a spot on your shopping list. - Brian Kennedy, PhD

The new No. 3's new CC

NAKANO: BACK SEAT DRIVING THE NEW NUMBER THREE File this one under "didn't see it coming." When Toyota passed Ford Motor Company a couple of years ago, the pundits knew it was just a matter of time. Well, it looks like Ford has dropped to Number Four during this past year. So, who's the new Number Three? Honda? Nissan-Renault? Are you ready for this? It's Volkswagen. Or, more specifically, Volkswagen AG, which includes Volkswagen, Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini, Skoda, SEAT, and a number of other brands. This is a surprise to most Americans, since VW doesn't have much of a presence in the USA. Everywhere else in the world, however, Volkswagen is huge. It's the leading brand in Europe and in the ever-growing China market. In the USA, Audi plays third fiddle to BMW and Mercedes among the German status symbols, but it's the premier luxury brand in China. Curiously, the fact that VW doesn't sell many cars in the USA led to its takeover of Ford for the Number Three spot. Automotive sales in this country have been dismal this year, it's hurt most of the car companies that have big market shares in the USA. VW has actually increased sales in the USA this year, thanks to its large inventory of small cars. "We are delighted that the Volkswagen Group has made it to the global automobile industry's top three for the first time. This shows that we are on the right track with our ever-stronger international presence and, above all, our product program. We will systematically push ahead with our growth course even in the present difficult market environment," Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of the Board of Management of Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft, commented. With 3.31 million vehicles delivered in the first half of 2008, the Volkswagen Group increased deliveries in the first six months of this year by 7.2 percent, moving up to third place in the global vehicle sales ranking and overtaking its rival Ford, which announced vehicle sales of 3.22 million for this period.

BRIAN KENNEDY: BACK SEAT DRIVING Because You Never Know What The Kid Might Say Some of you in the old car scene probably have seen the ads in magazines that urge you to "Take a kid to a car show." Maybe you've done it. I had my first crack at it when my six year-old nephew, Daniel, accompanied me to the Mustang Club of America show in Oakville, Ontario, recently. Daniel lives in the Toronto area, and I come from California now, but my being home happened to coincide with the event, so, since the kid loves Mustangs, I thought I'd give it a whirl. We walked in early in the morning when some Mustangs were still grabbing their spots in the parking area for judging. As we did, a new model with a Borla-type exhaust rumbled past. "How do they put that noise in there, Uncle Bean?" was the first of many questions I had to devise clever answers for during the day.

A few more cars passed us. "More Mustangs coming. They never end" my companion informed me. Then he told me "I think this is the most Mustangs I've ever seen." "OK, this is going well. He likes seeing the cars" I told myself. Before we'd left in the morning, I'd had two fears. One was that boredom would set in early and I'd have to drag him through the day. The other was that he'd spot a modified Mustang and say something about it being "one of those gross Mustangs." I'm not saying I taught him that concept. Alright, I did, this past Christmas when he was learning which cars were which in his set of Mustang cards I'd given him. But I'd warned him not to repeat it at the show. By eleven, when we'd been there an hour or so, I was starting to forget both worries. A bit later we did see something that I would consider less than tastefully modified, and I bit my lip as he opened his mouth, but all that came out was, "That's a very unusual car." I figured that couldn't be deemed too offensive.

He had a camera with him (in fact, he shot the photos for the story accompanying this sidebar, perhaps the youngest working automotive journalist in the country), and he spotted a red 2006 model with white GT stripes, one of two on display. "Why don't I take a picture of that one over there? That's a beauty" he said. Around that time, we had made our first loop of the show field, and he spied the vendor area. "Toy Mustangs!" he said. We looked at them, and then for the rest of the day, he asked to look again. And again. (We did.) Early in the day, his photo work mostly consisted of detail shots - wheels, emblems, things he could see at his height. As morning turned to afternoon, he decided that he might like to take some shots of the show participants, and I would be his first test case for shooting people. I posed next to an early coupe that I liked and smiled. He shot. "Oh no - I didn't get your head in there!" We did a retake. He then asked a man for a picture with his 64-1/2 Mustang, and the results are quite good, as you'll see in the story accompanying. The afternoon came, and we were still at it. "Some of these guys have been polishing their cars the whole time" I was informed. I looked around. He was right. The same guys we'd seen hours earlier were still at it with the dusters.

It started to rain, and Daniel looked worried. "Now all the cars are going to be ruined!" What a proud moment for me. If you're a car guy, you understand why. If you're not, thanks for reading anyway. To pass the time until the rain blew past, we went inside, spying a carb vendor as we did. "Look at all the little engines!" Daniel enthused. "They're carburetors" I corrected him. "Oh. What do those do?" I kept my explanation simple, and he seemed to get it. We went back outside, he raced the remote control NASCARS, we looked at the models again, and I bought him a t-shirt. Things had gone swimmingly, and he hadn't even complained about the walking around. Toward the end of the day, he dropped and broke his dad's digital camera. Not good, but hey, I was worried that he'd fall into the side of someone's concours paint job and that I'd have to head for the border and get back to the US a fugitive from the country of my birth, and nothing like that even came close to happening. So I figured that the day was successful for both of us. On the way home, after insisting that he is too old for naps, Daniel fell asleep in the car with the 2009 Mustang catalogue open in his lap. As he nodded off, it dropped to the floor, his favourite convertible still showing. He might remember this day. Maybe he won't. It won't matter. Fifteen years from now, in all likelihood, we'll be looking at cars just like the one in the brochure and making arrangements to have one shipped back to Ontario from LA. As we do, I'll remind him that he first saw it that day we went to the Mustang show, and I'll tell him some of the funny things he said.

NAKANO: BACK SEAT DRIVING The First Production Porsche to Appear at Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance PEBBLE BEACH, CA - Every third Sunday in August, rows and rows of pristinely restored Duesenbergs, Packards and Bugattis decorate the 18th fairway of the Pebble Beach Golf Links®. It's the annual Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance®, an automotive time capsule where entries are judged for their elegance and authenticity. In recent years, though, some graying interlopers have cropped up amidst the spotless, automotive jewels. Immaculately restored vehicles assuredly still capture the majority of the Concours limelight, but the unrefurbished cars of the Pebble Beach prewar and postwar preservation classes are garnering more and more public and media attention. "There's something stately about these treasures that actually show their history; once regal vehicles that have been left unrestored by their owners" says Sandra Kasky Button, Pebble Beach Concours Chairman. "Some have sat untouched for decades in barns, under tarps or buried in the back of deserted warehouses while others have been lovingly driven around town. In each instance, they're unique, beautiful and bear witness to the passage of time -- not only to those who created them, but to those who drove them." A prime example of historic beauty and relevance in this year's Concours is Porsche No. 1. Dr. Ferry Porsche once said, "I couldn't find the car I'd been dreaming of. So I decided to build it myself." On June 8, 1948 his dream car became a reality and signaled the birth of the sports car company bearing his name. The car spent many years with numerous owners before being recovered and returned in 1958 to the Porsche headquarters in Stuttgart, where it has remained the centerpiece of Porsche's automotive history. Porsche No. 1's appearance at this year's Pebble Beach Concours d' Elegance is Porsche's second chance to display this piece of history in the U.S. Ten years ago, on the occasion of the company's 50th anniversary, the first attempt was foiled by a shipping accident that damaged the car and prevented its debut. On Aug. 17, though, Porsche will make good on its quest to show No. 1 in its original glory at Pebble Beach when it joins 16 of its preservation brethren to create the largest showing of unrestored cars in the event's history. When horseless carriages began ruling the road about 100 years ago, many vehicles were discarded once they began to age. By the late 1950s, as the collector car pastime began to blossom, the emphasis was solely focused on restoring these older cars -- making them as good or better than new. More recently, though, some auto aficionados have come to believe that cars restored to "as new" condition can lose a portion of their historical significance. While some purists are still unable to see beauty amid the chipped paint, rusted rims and sun-shredded upholstery, leaders in the preservation movement insist that the patina of age has a beauty all its own, that these "rescued" automotive time capsules maintain peak historical importance by keeping the cars in their original unchanged condition. The Pebble Beach Concours initially recognized preservation cars in 1999 when a trophy was awarded for Best Preserved Car. The first class at Pebble Beach solely devoted to pre-war preservation vehicles was in 2001, and in 2007 a post-war preservation class was created. "Our preservation classes cover a wide range of cars - from the untouched, long-hidden finds to much-loved automobiles that have been used, well maintained (but not restored) and passed down through many generations of owners" says Button. "Everyone talks about the untouched barn find and bemoans the fact that they're increasingly rare. To be truly preserved for a long period of time, though, cars require lots of care. So over time, I think everybody's preference will swing toward lovingly preserved cars." About the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance First conducted in 1950, the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance (pebblebeachconcours.net) has grown to become the world's premier celebration of the automobile. Only the most beautiful and rare cars are invited to appear on the famed 18th fairway of Pebble Beach Golf Links®, and connoisseurs of art and style flock to see these masterpieces. Charitable donations raised by the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance now total over $10 million. Related events include the Pebble Beach Tour d'Elegance presented by Rolex, Pebble Beach RetroAuto, and the Pebble Beach Auction presented by Gooding & Company. Pebble Beach Company, headquartered in Pebble Beach, Calif., owns and operates the world-famous Pebble Beach Resorts, including The Lodge at Pebble Beach, The Inn at Spanish Bay and Casa Palmero. The company also operates four renowned golf courses: Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill Golf Course, The Links at Spanish Bay and Del Monte Golf Course. Its other famed properties include the scenic 17-Mile Drive and The Spa at Pebble Beach. In addition to the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, Pebble Beach Resorts annually hosts the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, The Wal-Mart First Tee Open at Pebble Beach and the Callaway Golf Pebble Beach Invitational. Pebble Beach Golf Links has hosted four U.S. Opens, four U.S. Amateurs, one PGA Championship, and will host its fifth U.S. Open in 2010. For reservations or more information please call 800-654-9300 or visit the Website at pebblebeach.com.

A JOURNAL OF LOS ANGELES & ITS CAR CULTURE

LA Car

That was LA Car's subtitle when it started back in 1997. It's original website address was about five times the size of lacar.com. 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 automotive spirit - much like one's own journal or diary. 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 some reasons to come back more often (all opinions, by the way, are those of the respective author). So, go ahead and bookmark www.lacar.com. 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 from the heart of the car culture. - Roy Nakano

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