The Nissan Leaf arrives at dealerships in December

admin - Saturday, 4 September 2010 08:52

  The first all-electric car from a major auto company, the Nissan Leaf, arrives at dealerships in December, but thousands of Americans are already learning that going electric can come with perks like no other car purchase.

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“It just keeps getting better and better,” said Justin McNaughton, among the 20,000 people who have reserved a Leaf. “My wife thinks it’s funny because at the end of the day, we’re just buying a car.”Since Mr. McNaughton, a lawyer in Nashville, paid his $99 deposit, he has been bombarded with government incentives — promises of a $7,500 federal tax credit, a $2,500 cash rebate from the state of Tennessee, and a $3,000 home-charging unit courtesy of the Energy Department.

When he had questions about the Leaf, the answers came in a 40-minute telephone call from a senior manager in Nissan’s corporate planning department.

“You kind of feel like you’re one of the chosen people,” Mr. McNaughton said.

Precisely. It is all part of an unprecedented effort by federal, state and local governments to stimulate demand for cars that have zero tailpipe emissions — and Nissan’s pre-emptive bid to corner the all-electric market much the way that Toyota dominated the early hybrid market with the Prius.

The government subsidies are shaving thousands of dollars off the Leaf’s $32,780 sticker price, while other benefits are piling up, like free parking in some cities and the use of express lanes on highways usually reserved for cars with multiple passengers.

In Tennessee, where a Leaf assembly plant is being built, Leaf drivers will be able to charge their vehicles free at public charging stations on 425 miles of freeways that connect Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga.

“It’s almost shocking how many subsidies are available on the Leaf,” said Jeremy P. Anwyl, chief executive of the auto research Web site Edmunds.com. “We are putting a lot of money behind this technology.”

Nissan expects the typical Leaf buyer to fit a highly desirable demographic: affluent, college-educated consumers in their mid-40s who are both environmentally sensitive and willing to take a chance that electric technology will be as safe and reliable as internal combustion engines.

Better still, about 85 percent of the people who have reserved a Leaf do not currently own a Nissan, giving the brand exposure to a new audience. Interest in the car has been so great that the company has stopped taking reservations for the initial production run — the Leaf is being built in Japan, with assembly at the new plant in Tennessee beginning in 2012 — but Nissan has plans to sell as many as 500,000 electric cars worldwide by 2013.

The Obama administration has made electric vehicles a centerpiece of its drive to reduce the nation’s reliance on oil, and is pumping up subsidies with a goal of getting a million electric cars on the road by 2015. Proponents of electric cars also point to their zero tailpipe emissions, though the electricity to charge the cars creates emissions.

So far the only electric cars available in the United States are made by small companies, like Tesla Motors, and are prohibitively expensive for most buyers (the Tesla Roadster is priced at over $100,000). Other automakers are in various stages of introducing electric vehicles to the market, and General Motors is preparing to bring out the Chevrolet Volt, a $41,000 model that runs on electricity but is not all-electric because it has a gas engine to extend its driving range.

So for now, at least, the Leaf, which Nissan claims can travel 100 miles on a single battery charge, has the stage pretty much to itself. So Nissan is dedicating extensive resources to the introduction and is taking consumer outreach to new lengths.

The company has studied potential buyers in focus groups, on Internet dialogues and at Leaf “tour stops” at shopping malls across the country. Nissan has even hired a firm to make “home visits” to prospective buyers to make sure their garages are properly equipped for charging the vehicle and to answer other questions.

“These people are the visionaries who see the opportunity and want to be a part of it,” Trisha Jung, chief marketing manager for the Leaf, said of the customers who had reserved a Leaf. “They will be demonstrating every day that this is a practical technology.”

Mr. McNaughton, the Nashville lawyer, said he was unaware that he had even applied for a free 240-volt charging station for his home. But by filling out a questionnaire, he was selected to be one of 5,700 new Leaf owners to get the charging unit. In exchange, he agreed to let the EV Project — a $230 million national program financed by various government agencies, utilities and corporations — monitor his battery-charging habits.

A 240-volt home charging unit can give the vehicle a full charge in about eight hours, Nissan says.

Ken Muir, an engineer in San Jose, Calif., had a similar surprise when he first saw the Leaf at a mall last year. After mentioning his interest to a Nissan employee, he was contacted by the head of Nissan’s West Coast communications team, who arranged for Mr. Muir to get a personal test drive.

After putting down his $99 deposit, Mr. Muir met for an hour in his home with a technician from Nissan’s supplier of charging stations. “It’s been really amazing to get this amount of personal attention from a huge car company like Nissan,” he said.

He is also a bit giddy about the level of financial support he will get — the $7,500 federal tax credit as well as a $5,000 credit from the state of California, and another $2,000 federal credit toward the purchase of a charging unit.

“I’ve wanted an electric car for 10 years, but I never expected it to make this much economic sense to get one,” Mr. Muir said.

The car itself will keep Nissan connected to its customers long after they drive it off the lot. A communication module installed in the Leaf’s lithium-ion battery will send data to Nissan that monitors the condition of the battery and how it is being used. “It’s not a ‘Big Brother’ thing,” said Mark Perry, head of North American product planning for Nissan. If Nissan sees that a battery cell “has behaved outside the norm, we want to call you or e-mail you and say, ‘Come on in and let’s check it out.’ ”

The first Leafs go on sale in December in five states — California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Tennessee, all of which are places where the EV Project is building charging stations.

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The fastest, most expensive car in the world

admin - Saturday, 14 August 2010 08:51

  Welcome to the fastest production car in the world…and the most expensive. This past summer, the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport set the speed record as the fastest production car in the world going 431 km/h (268 mph), with former race driver Pierre-Henri Raphanel behind the wheel. 

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The new Veyron is large for a two-seater, measuring 175.7 in. from bumper to bumper, and riding on a 106.7-in. wheelbase. It’s wide and low at 78.7 in. and 46.8 in., respectively. The car looks similar to the base Veyron, but there are subtle differences. On its roof are two NACA ducts that feed air into the engine, and the front of the car has been reshaped to house larger air vents (the lower one extending around the sides to the wheel arch).

The project leader, Frank Gotzke, said that all exterior (and many interior) changes were made for cooling. The major obstacle when creating this super car was to cool the engine, so it could produce the output needed to make this car the fastest production car in the world.

The quad turbocharged W-16 engine produces a remarkable 1200 bhp peaking at 6400 rpm and 1106 lb.-ft. of torque from 3000 to 5000 rpm. Now when you’re talking numbers on this grand of a scale in a production car, you naturally have obstacles. Cooling the engine, as mentioned before, becomes a problem, so Gotzke added larger intercoolers than the ones in the “normal” 1001-bhp Veyron 16.4 to offset the bigger turbos. There are also dedicated coolers for the engine, transmission and differential oils. Another necessity was more powerful fuel pumps to feed the hungry aluminum 16-cylinder powerplant. The carbon-fiber chassis was also strengthened to handle the extra power with a stiffer suspension setup and enhanced structural rigidity. Despite the use of super lightweight materials throughout the car, including carbon fiber for the body and much of the chassis, as well as aluminum, magnesium and titanium for the engine, the Super Sport is quite heavy, tipping the scales at 4044 lb. Gotzke explained that this was intentional because he didn’t want the Super Sport to be seen as a race car for the street whose only mission was to set fast lap times. He wanted the car to be useable everyday, comfortable yet sinister.

True to his word, the car was smooth, quiet and comfortable when I sat behind the steering wheel. When the road opened up, I floored it. As soon as my right foot hit the floor, my torso was violently slammed into the seatback, as if I was struck head on by NFL linebacker Ray Lewis. Everything seemed to go white for a split second before I realized that I was already at the far end of the road. I looked at the speedometer, it showed 270 km/h (169 mph). Behind me, the rear wing had extended, cutting through the air like Superman’s cape and providing downforce to the rear of the car. According to Bugatti, the Super Sport goes from 0-100 km/h (0-61 mph) in 2.5 seconds. From the seat of my pants, it felt a lot quicker. There’s no way a car weighing more than two tons should be able to accelerate this quickly, I thought.

I got off the throttle a bit as a long sweeper materialized in front of me. I touched the brakes and turned in. The car leaned a bit, but the handling balance was near neutral, thanks in part to the 45/55 front/rear weight distribution. The steering felt precise and crisp, and surprisingly light. My co-driver, Raphanel, said that the car will not oversteer unless you do something really stupid, like brake or lift abruptly in mid corner. The balance of the car was set up for mild understeer, but will pull 1.4g around a skidpad, according to the company.

When we reached a small village, I put the car in cruise mode, traveling about 40 mph. The car returned to a mild-mannered Clark Kent, with its flowing red cape tucked neatly away. The seats were comfortable and the cabin was quiet. The fit and finish of the interior were first-rate, and all the materials, including the leather and carbon fiber, were presented in a classy manner. The instrument cluster consisted of the usual tachometer, speedometer, fuel level and oil pressure gauges, but one special meter stood out. It was the horsepower gauge that told how much power was being produced. While the stock Veyron’s maxed out at 1001, the Super Sport’s went all the way up to 1200.

So what does it take to own one of what could be the most collectible car in modern-day history? Money and patience. If you have €1.95 million (that’s $2.7 million) lying around in some xx fund for the black-and-orange World Record Edition (or €1.65 million for the base Super Sport), then you can order now, but it will take about a year for delivery. The factory makes only two Veyrons a week (of all types). If I ever hit it big and have the resources to purchase one, I would in a second, not just because it’s a hoot to drive, but because this will go down in history as the most excessive yet exclusive car ever produced.

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Sales of used cars are way up

admin - Monday, 2 August 2010 08:51

  Sales of used cars are way up. So far almost four million more have been sold this year than last. But buying a used car is never a good deal if you end up with someone else’s headaches. Consumer Reports’ auto experts can keep you on the straight path. 

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More people are buying used cars in this down economy. As a result, used cars are in short supply and prices are up.

“People are looking for value now,” says Rik Paul of Consumer Reports. “And used cars, especially late-model used cars, are better values than new cars.”

But Consumer Reports says you have to shop carefully. First, narrow down your choices to a reliable make and model. That translates into less time and money spent at the repair shop.

“The reliability information that Consumer Reports gathers shows that some models are generally more reliable than others. It’s hard to go wrong with a Honda, for instance,” says Paul. “The Accord, the Civic, the CR-V, and the Pilot are all very reliable.”

Next, you want to find a car that’s been well maintained. Ask for records so you can see if the recommended maintenance was done as well as any repairs.

“You should also look over a used car very carefully,” Paul explains. “Telltale signs of damage are rust or corrosion like this or a door that doesn’t close properly.”

Also check the engine and under the car for any oil or coolant leaks. If you find any, steer clear.

But most importantly, have an independent mechanic check out a used vehicle before buying it.

“If someone won’t allow a car to be inspected, consider that a red flag and move on,” Paul says.

And is it better to get a certified used vehicle? They can cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars more.

“If you focus on getting a reliable car that’s well-maintained, and you have it inspected by an independent mechanic, you can skip going the certified-car route,” says Paul.

Taking a test drive is also important. You want to see if the car drives smoothly and that there are no unusual noises. Take the car on highways and local roads, too. Ideally you want to spend up to a half-hour driving the car so you have enough time to size it up. You can get more advice on buying a used car by clicking on the Hot Button.

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Top negotiating strategies when buying a used car

admin - Friday, 30 July 2010 08:51

  Americans buy more used cars than they do new ones and that number has only gone up during this tricky economy as people try to save money. But could you still be paying too much? That’s the nagging doubt in every car buyer’s mind.

Cars are the second biggest thing we buy after homes, and the process can be so intimidating. After all, unlike in other countries, we don’t negotiate for most of our purchases and most of us only buy a car once every few years. But good hagglers save themselves an average of 10 percent to 15 percent on this big purchase, so it’s worth it to learn.

“Good Morning America” teamed up with auto website Edmunds.com and went undercover to show you, step by step, how to haggle. Our expert was Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor for Edmunds. Edmunds buys lots of cars for test driving purposes and Reed is the one who shops for them. He always does so on a “mystery shopper” basis, only revealing who he works for at the end.

The idea is to get a feel for the process that consumers are experiencing out in the marketplace, so that he can then give solid, relevant advice.

We were also excited to work with Reed because he has previous undercover experience. He once got a job as a car salesman and did the job for several months in order to get the inside story and share it with consumers.

On this shopping trip, our mission was to buy a certified 2007 Honda Odyssey EXL that Edmunds needed for its photography department. When Edmunds test drives new cars for its articles, staff photographers shoot pictures of them, and they wanted a minivan with a sunroof they could shoot out of.

“There was a certain amount of pressure,” Reed said. “We weren’t just going in and playing games with people and wasting their time. This was a car that I needed to get for my company.”

To add to the tension, Reed had a budget. He was allowed to spend no more than $25,000 and he had to get a vehicle in excellent condition with low miles. All this while wearing multiple hidden cameras to capture the transaction.

Before visiting dealerships we settled on 10 negotiating strategies we would employ during the process. Here they are and here’s how we did.

Try to Get the Salesman to Name the First Price
Obviously you don’t want to pay the sticker price, but where, then, to begin? There’s an old negotiating adage that goes like this: “Whoever speaks first, loses.” Why? Because the opening number defines the entire negotiation.

Once you throw out a dollar figure, you can’t go any lower than that. That’s why you want to try to get the salesman to name the first price. That way you will know you are not starting too high.

At our first dealership, I asked the question straight out: “What I was really wondering is what are you selling it for?” And the salesman obliged with an answer: “Here’s our fleet price: $23,475.”

That was significantly lower than the sticker price of $26,998, so it was helpful information. We would now make our opening offer even lower than that.

Mention a Reputable Pricing Guide
Next: drop the name of a reputable pricing guide like Edmunds.com. Dealerships are used to this. The old timers who’ve been around since before the Internet may miss the times when customers were clueless. But some customers still are clueless, so put them on notice that you are one of the ones who has done your homework. It will speed up the process.

We did this and had some fun with it, because most of the sales staff would then poo-poo the accuracy of the Edmunds pricing guide right to Reed’s face, and he works there. Here was one exchange:

Salesman: “Oh, you’re going from Edmunds? Oh, I see.”

Reed: “Is that a problem?”

Salesman: “It’s not a problem. It’s just that it doesn’t reflect really what the market is.”

Bring a Wingman
There’s real value in bringing a wingman along. Ideally this person will be the “bad cop,” the naysayer who questions the car — and the price — so the dealership doesn’t get cocky. That was my job during our undercover experiment.

I said things I hoped would sow doubt in the sales staff’s minds so they’d be unsure we were really going to buy the vehicle and work harder to get our business. Some samples:

“I don’t know, Phil, because you were hoping to get a car with less miles than that, right?”

“I liked the other make and model better.”

“I don’t want to see you bust your budget for this car, Phil. I think this price is too high.”

Leave the Sales Cubicle
As you know, a staple of the in-person car buying experience is the shuttling back and forth, where the salesman leaves to go “talk to his manager,” the person with the authority to accept or reject offers. Phil says when that happens, you should leave, too.

“They leave because they want to show that they’re in control,” Phil said. “They make you sit there. You’re investing your time. The more time that you invest, the more likely you are to buy a car — they think.”

So each time the salesman left the cubicle we would too, wandering off to the restrooms or even to our rental car.

“We were sending them a signal that we were not going to be controlled,” Reed explained. “And also we might just completely disappear.”

Leave the Lot
Never finalize a car deal without leaving the lot. You don’t have to turn on your heel and leave in a huff. Just tell the salesperson the price is not where you need it to be and that you are going to go see if you can do better elsewhere.

But make sure they have your cell phone number so they can reach you. The whole idea is that you want them to call you up and make you a better offer because they are afraid they are going to lose your business altogether. Sure enough, dealership number 1 called Reed three times while we were on the way to dealership number 2. The folks there wanted our business.

Shop Multiple Dealerships
Which bring us to a closely correlating strategy: Always shop more than one dealership. And while you’re at it make sure they know about each other.

Going to at least two dealers will start to give you a feel for real prices in the marketplace. It also helps keep you from swooning over a particular car and paying too much for it. You don’t want to fall in love. You want to “two-time” your used vehicle. If the price at one dealership isn’t good enough, have another waiting elsewhere.

At our second dealership, we found another certified 2007 Honda Odyssey EXL with almost identical mileage. Sticker price, $24,988. Internet price: $23,988. Now we needed to make an offer well below those figures.

Reasons, Number, Silence
When you’re ready to make the all-important opening offer, give good reasons for the figure you are about to throw out.

For more information on how to choose your opening price, click here for our Web Extra.

Next give that figure, a firm number. And then shut up. You want that pregnant pause, that uncomfortable quiet. Do not fill it. Your goal is for the seller to be the one to squirm and shatter the silence by accepting your offer or making an attractive counter offer.

Too many customers make their offer and then — worried they are being impolite — sort of dribble on and weaken their own words.

Here’s how Reed worded his offer at the second dealership: “Based on what we’ve seen on other car lots and our budget, and the fact that it’s a little higher miles than we had hoped, we’d be prepared to offer you $20,500.”

Thoughtful reasons for why the offer isn’t higher, the offer itself and then silence.

“If you say it and then you’re absolutely still after that, it really puts a certain amount of pressure on them to respond,” Reed explained.

In our case, a manager came out a couple minutes later and made a counter offer of $22,865.

“Which is really close to wholesale book,” he said. He, too, was giving reasons for the figure he named.

Counter With a Smaller Increment
Never accept the dealership’s first counter offer, much as you might like to end the negotiation because you are outside your comfort zone. Instead, show you’re tough by making your counter offer a smaller increment than theirs.

The idea is to demonstrate that your resolve is firmer than theirs and you are sticking to your guns. In our case, the dealership came down more than a thousand dollars. So Reed went up by just $500, putting the price on the table at $21,000.

Once again, reasons — and some encouragement: “We’re just trying to work within a budget. So we’d be happy to come up to $21,000,” Reed told the manager. “If you can do that, we can do it right away.”

Worry About Your Own budget ? Not Theirs
Very often dealerships claim that they will lose money on a vehicle at the price you are offering. Both dealerships we visited said things to this effect and sometimes it is true. Other times it’s more of a negotiating line.

Keep in mind, when dealers talk about what they paid for a vehicle, they may be including other factors besides what they purchased the vehicle for.

For example, the van we were buying was used but certified. That means the dealership spent some money sprucing it up to meet Honda’s certified vehicle requirements. Dealerships often assign a dollar value to those repairs, but they are performed by in-house mechanics who are on the clock anyway.

I’m not saying the repairs don’t have value, just that there is probably some wiggle room in the accounting that you may be able to turn to your benefit.

That’s why it’s important for you to go into the dealership with a maximum price in mind that you can afford to pay for the vehicle in question. If the dealership says it is losing money at the price you have offered, but offering more would bust your own budget, then walk away.

Timing Helps Too
Our undercover adventure took place on Sept. 28, just two days before the end of the month. Honestly, that is just when it worked out for us to go, but we were reminded that it can be a good strategy when the used car director at the second dealership said the following: “That’s a unit for us right here at the end of the month.”

It’s also helpful to look for stale cars that have been sitting on the lot for a long time. The dealership likely views them as semi-failures and wants them out the door.

Many dealerships now provide a free Carfax vehicle history report for any used car you look at. Both dealerships we visited did, and I noticed that the Carfax report had a handy line showing when the vehicle had come into that dealership. At the second dealership, the Odyssey we wanted had been there 42 days.

So, hoping this gave us some leverage, I said to Reed and the manager: “Hey Phil, I notice here that they’ve had it for more than a month. More than a month. So I’m wondering, do you want to sell this vehicle and get it out of here?”

The Final Price
After some more back and forth, the offer on the table was now $21,500. This time, the manager’s manager came over and we were sure he was going to haggle with us some more.

But then, to our surprise and delight, he said: “I think that’s a fair deal for you and so with that said, could we make a deal right here?”

Reed smiled and replied, “Absolutely,” and that was that. We were thrilled with the price, impressed with the vehicle and pleased with our negotiating experience.

“People feel incredibly empowered when they negotiate on their own behalf,” Reed said. “And they’re always amazed and blown away with how much they can accomplish with a few simple things.”

The Odyssey’s sticker price was $24,988. We got it for $21,500 — a savings of $3,500. And even when taxes and fees were added, the total “out the door” price was $23,924, well below the $25,000 limit Edmunds had given Phil.

Assessing the Deal
Phil came in more than $1,000 under budget for his company, but was our purchase a good deal in general?

Edmunds offers a unique tool called “True Market Value” or “TMV” that gave us some perspective. Edmunds’ TMV is the average price that consumers are currently paying for a certain type of vehicle.

Sample car dealerships around the country report their selling prices to Edmunds, which then runs a formula that averages the raw data. That means TMV averages include people who paid too much and those who did very well in their negotiations, plus those in the middle.

Reed’s goal was to beat the TMV number and be “better than average.”

The TMV for a Certified 2007 Honda EXL with 40,000 miles on it was $22,515. The price Phil had had in mind to pay was $21,500 and that is exactly what came to pass. He was better than average by $1,015.

“We got a very good deal on this car,” he said. “I wouldn’t call it a screaming deal, but it’s a very good deal.”

A Backup Plan
If you are close to a price you think is fair, but just can’t get the dealership to come down any more, here’s another strategy: Instead of trying to get the car for less money, you can try to get the money to buy more car — by asking for extras like new floor mats or tires, a souped up stereo or an upgraded warranty. Make sure the extras are things you truly want and need.

Negotiating Without Getting in Their Face
If, after reading all of this advice, you still can’t picture yourself marching into a car dealership and doing a bit of acting in order to pare down the price of a used car, then Internet buying may be for you.

You can still get the benefit of negotiating the price, but you will be doing so online or by phone, a less in-your-face approach that some people prefer.

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