GirlDriver, USA

GirlDriver, USA
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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

IMPA Test Day? Drive a bunch of cars around a racetrack day

IMPA stands for International Motor Press Association.  It's a club I belong to along with other reprobates and auto pr folks.  We have monthly meetings with good speakers from the industry and we have a couple of test days out of the city.  These are days when we go to Bear Mountain (In the spring) and the Monticello Raceway (In the fall) and the auto companies bring their latest models, line them up along the road and leave the keys in them.  We jump into the cars and high-tail it around the track and on the roads. 

Nissan 350 Z
These are a few of the cars I drove.   I drove the Rolls-Royce Phantom II Series.  Oleg Satanaovsky, the man in charge of the car rode along with me.  Tthe monroney (sales sheet) of the Phantom is a great read.  My favorite line is the one that lists the cost for the pen set you can get for the glove box.  It costs $5,575.00.  Oleg explained to me that in the middle east where Rolls sells a lot of cars, five grand isn't a lot for a pen.  People can't express their wealth in their dress, so they buy $100,000 pens and watches.  Makes sense to me!  Anyway, here are a few more things you can equip your vehicle with:  a humidor in the glove box for $4,050 (a steal!), a drinks cabinet for individual rear seats for $11,000 (don't be caught without one), picnic tables with glass and pen holder for $1,525 (well if you've already got the pen, hey!).  Just different and interesting, isn't it?

Sweet.  Yellow.  Camaro,

Love this car.

The hotel is next door to the Nevele and four of us autobabes tried to break in but we were caught by security.  Well, we weren't exactly undercover driving up to the gate in a Bentley and jumping the gate.  The Nevele is so ugly,  Remember those awful ads?  The security guard told us the place is going to become a casino,  Yuck.
I drove the Camaro and the Nissan 350Z.  I love those cars.  They're way too much fun to drive.  I want them in my five-car garage--another lifetime. 
By the way, the term high-tail comes from animals who raise their tails when fleeing.  If we'd just robbed a bank and we were driving the Camaro or the 350Z we would have to high-tail it out of town.  Likewise at Test Day some of us high-tail it around the track.  We wouldn't have to high-tail it out of town if we'd robbed the bank and we were driving the Phantom because no one would suspect us because we have an $11,000 drinks cabinet in the back seat.  Speaking of high-tailing, I got my wrist band pulled when I drove too fast around a corner and went off the track.  One gets their wristband removed if they appear to be driving wrecklessly.  I've never had my wristband pulled.  I was, I have to admit, pleased with myself in a way.  GirlDriver, USA and all.  I got it back because the wife of the guy who monitors the track was in the car with me.  She said, "Just look contrite."  I said, "That's harder than it sounds.  I haven't been to confession for a long, long time. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Acura ILX -- Cool and Understated

If you met the Acura ILX in a bar, you wouldn't automatically walk up to it and say, "Wanna take a ride?"  And that would be your loss.

Indie Band Promotion for ILX.  It's a cool car.
Based on the ever popular Honda Civic, the Acura ILX compact sedan gets its premium boost from plenty of the luxe options and standard equipment that put it right into the "check it out" category. 

My ILX was powered by a 2.4 liter DOHC, 16-valve i-VTEC 4-cylinder engine that delivered 201 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque.  It was paired with a 6-speed manual and that combinations kept me very happy behind the wheel.  The ILX also comes in a base  model with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 150 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque paired with a five-speed automatic and a hybrid version  with a 1.5-liter four-cylinder  and  electric motor that delivers 111 hp and 127 lb-ft. 

Fuel economy on the premium ILX is 22 city/ 31 highway/ 25 combined, nothing earth shattering.

Nice interior.  You won't get tired of it.
The cost for my vehicle, which had leather-trimmed, heated sport seats, premium audio, satellite radio,  17" alloy wheels, all-season tires, an eight-way power driver's seat, multi-view rear camera, moon roof, Xenon headlights, fog lamps and heated power door mirrors was $30,095 including delivery charges.

The car was spirited and fun to drive.  It's got good looks although as mentioned previously, it doesn't broadcast its capabilities with showy design.  With this car I felt that was a good thing.  It kind of takes you by surprise.  Thumbs up.  Also look at Buick Verano, Mazda 3, BMW 3.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Did You Get a Recall Notice on Your Vehicle? Don't Panic

No doubt you’ve caught the news about recalls and automotive safety in recent days.
"It may be overwhelming to hear that so many cars have been recalled, but in truth, carmakers save money by using common parts wherever and whenever possible, and this greatly increases the number of affected vehicles when there is a recall," noted Senior Editor John O’Dell, who recently published a fascinating piece on recalls at Features Editor Carroll Lachnit advises consumers to stay on top of recalls that affect them. "Consumers enjoy having a lot of features in their cars, but sometimes, things can and will go wrong, and the probability increases with every additional feature you have. To keep you and your family safe, it's critical to stay informed about recalls and to address them quickly when they affect your car."
A free resource on current recalls can be accessed at

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Note To Self: Buy Leather Jacket

The way to size up the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart is to first know in your head that it's a bad boy with good intentions. Who wouldn't love the growl of the 237-hp 2.0 liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine?  The engine is paired with a 6-speed, twin-clutch sportronic transmission, which I found imprecise and annoying.  Even after settling in to the car, I had problems shifting gears.

Once in gear, this performance-enhanced Lancer is a blast to drive.  It felt secure and grounded and responsive.   Foglamps and dual exhaust, makes this shark nosed, chrome-appointed, hood-scooped sedan a head turner.   The interior finishes and materials left me wishing for a better execution although sport meter gauges, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob make up for some of those issues.  I'm also one who doesn't care for the pumped up Rockford-Fosgate sound system.  The target market for this car would totally approve, but the sound is way to heavy and pounding for my musical tastes.  You can find me on  Broadway channel (XM 72) whenever I'm not listening to news.

Getting down to brass tacks, the fuel economy on this beast is 18 city/ 25 highway/20 combined.  My car as equipped was $34,240 including delivery with about $5,300 worth of extras.  The monroney (sales sheet) actually includes a full tank of gas.  Like, really?  Well the average annual fuel cost calculations do estimate that you will spend $2,850 annually in fuel costs.  It averages out to about $2,600 more over five years than an average new vehicle or about $500 a year.   

Mitsu is one of a couple of car companies that are struggling in the U.S.  In the Lancer slice of the market there are many desirable muscle cars to choose from so competitors have to be at the very top of their game.  With Mitsu total sales hovering around 40,000 in a market that is being estimated at 14.4 million vehicles this year, it is hard to see how they will survive.  Chevrolet,  sold 40,000 cars  over two weeks in August.

I had fun in the car.   But if you don't want to draw attention, you might be better off with a Camry.  I was stopped by the state troopers at 12:30 a.m. on the parkway.  He was more interested in the fact that I had California distributor plates than the fact that I was going 72 in a 55 mph zone.  "I've only ever seen one other California plate on this road in my entire career," he said.  (He had to be all of 19.)  And then he didn't know how to input a distributor plate and was fascinated by my job so I got off.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A GOOD IDEA Call For Entries: $500k Lexus Eco Challenge Revs Up

While we like to take the hard line at GirlDriver, USA keeping our auto companies on their toes and serving you, sometimes they harness their horsepower to the good and we love to talk about that too.  Actually, they're always doing good stuff.  Here's one you can give to your kid's school or any teachers you may know.  Lexus and Scholastichave launched the   Sixth Annual Environmental Contest with $500,000  in Grants and Scholarships to be Awarded
2011 - 2012 Lexus Eco Challenge Grand Prize Winner 003
The "One-Towel Wonders” team from 
SCAPA Bluegrass in Lexington, Ky., is 
a grand prize winner in the 2011-2012
Lexus Eco Challenge. The team demon-
strated how a simple idea – using one 
towel per person per week – would 
benefit the environment.

Young people are committed to making a difference in the world, and for the sixth year, their efforts will be rewarded through the Lexus Eco Challenge. An educational program and contest, the Lexus Eco Challenge has inspired and empowered more than 22,000 middle and high school students to learn about the environment and take action to improve it. For their efforts, more than $3.5 million has been awarded to students, teachers and schools across the nation. This fall, students are invited to participate for a chance to win part of $500,000 in grants and scholarships. Lexus, the luxury automaker, has once again joined with Scholastic Inc., the global children’s publishing, education and media company, to create the eco-friendly educational school program.

“The Lexus Eco Challenge is an integral part of the environmental studies curriculum at our school,” said Ashlie Beals, teacher advisor for the 2011 grand prize-winning team called the “One-Towel Wonders.” ”For the past five years all of my 8th grade students have worked in teams to create and implement innovative campaigns to encourage others to make one small change that can have a large positive impact on our environment. During the challenge students sharpen their oral and written communication skills, utilize many forms of technology, and work together actively and enthusiastically to solve real-life problems. My younger students eagerly look forward to their chance to participate in the challenge when they are in 8th grade. I can’t thank Lexus and Scholastic enough for offering this tremendous opportunity to my students.”

The Challenge has two distinct elements:
• Standards-based supplementary educational materials - encourages teachers to integrate creative lesson plans into their classrooms to help teach students about the environment.
• Competition to reward environmental action - helps young people apply what they’ve learned in class through the program and empowers them to make improvements in their community by participating in the environmental team challenges.
"Year after year students tell us that the Lexus Eco Challenge helped them learn how to improve the environment," said Mark Templin, Lexus group vice president and general manager. "But they say the most important aspect of the competition is the revelation that they can make a difference. That knowledge and experience will be powerful as their generation takes responsibility for making decisions about the environment.”

The Challenges and Rewards
The Lexus Eco Challenge registration is open now and will conclude with the announcement of the first-place and grand-prize-winning teams in spring 2013. Middle and high school teams, comprised of 5-10 students and a teacher advisor, are invited to participate in one or both of the two initial challenges, each addressing different environmental elements – land/water and air/climate.

For each of the challenges, teams define an environmental issue that is important to them, develop an action plan to address the issue, implement the plan, and report the results. Submission deadlines are: Challenge #1 (land/water) – Oct. 29, 2012 and Challenge #2 (air/climate) – Dec. 17, 2012.

Each of the challenges will have 16 winning teams – eight middle school and eight high school teams. The winning teams will each receive a total of $10,000 in scholarships and grants to be shared among the students, teacher and school. In addition, the winning action plans will be featured on a special Web page to inspire other students to take action in their communities.

In early January, the winning teams from the first two challenges will be invited to participate in the Final Challenge. Teams will be asked to reach beyond the local community and inspire environmental action around the world through innovative ideas that are communicated to a wide audience. From the Final Challenge entries, eight first-place teams and two grand-prize-winning teams will be selected. Each of the eight first-place teams will receive a total of $15,000 in grants and scholarships, and the two grand-prize-winning teams will each receive $30,000. The money will be shared by the students, their teacher advisors and their schools.

Lexus’ Environmental Efforts
Lexus is the luxury hybrid leader with five low-emission hybrid vehicles available. When Lexus began selling hybrids in 2005, it helped advance the concept of sustainability without sacrifice. The Lexus Eco Challenge is part of The Lexus Pursuit of Potential, a philanthropic initiative that generates up to $3 million in donations each year for organizations that help build, shape and improve children’s lives.

Contact:  Nancy Hubbell
Lexus Communications
(310) 468-7633

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Elantra--the sporty, "functional" family

The 2013 Elantra GT with 17" wheels and super slanted headlamps.
I knew even before I started the engine that I was in for a sporty ride.  The aluminum-covered foot pedals and foot rest gave it away.  Then I started the engine.  The engine notes bring you right back to that date you had in high school with the bad guy who wore too much pomade.  Lose the pomade buddy and you got yourself a girlfriend.  And that's kind of what the Elantra GT does.

The Hyundai 2013 Elantra GT is such a curvaceous little darlin' it would be a shame if it weren't also a terrific car.  No worries there.  It is, as most of Hyundai vehicles in America today, well made, packed with content, stylish and reliable.  Who could ask for anything more--rhetorical question.

My test car is the 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT with  front-wheel drive.  It comes with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that produces148 horsepower and 131 lbs-ft of torque.  A partial zero-emissions vehicle (PZEV) version of this engine lowers output to 145 hp and 130 lb-ft for vehicles sold in California-emissions states. The engine is paired with a 6-speed automatic.

EPA fuel economy estimates are the same for each transmission, with 28 mpg city/39 mpg highway and 32  combined.  My combined fuel economy on the 2013 Elantra GT was 33.9 mpg over a distance of 343.3 miles.  Most of my miles are parkways.

The lighting of the instrument panel makes the interior notable.  There's a particular glow to the white background, accented with blue and red.  It's handsome.  It's well-designed so that it doesn't make an overly ambitious statement--a comfortable, easy-to-like interior--no pomade.  It's quiet in the cabin though the noise bafflers don't separate you from the endearing engine notes. I particularly liked (and I usually don't like) using the navigation system and the audio as well as Hyundai's blueLink that finds restaurants and other (POI) places of interest and pairs bluetooth phones to their system.  The interior offers leather, heated seats, front and rear.  It is roomy--surprisingly so.  Don't reject the idea of a test drive because you're tall.  Steering comes in three flavors, normal, sporty and comfort.  I chose sporty to go along with the engine's pugnacity.

Nifty interior.  Notice aluminum foot pedals.  Center panel reminds me of Volvo's waterfall design.
Standard safety features include electronic stability control with traction control, AVS with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist,  many airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners, tire pressure monitor and daytime running lights.  I fault Hyundai for not having blind-spot detection and some of the other accompanying newer safety features.  They are lifesavers and I'm sure they will soon show up on lower end models.

The Elantra GT competes with the Ford Focus, Mazda3, Volkswagen Golf and Chevy Cruze--tough competition.  This "functional" family consists of the sedan, the coupe and the GT.  As equipped my vehicle was $25,365.  Base price was $19,395. But in general, the Elantra's balance between ride and handling is one of the best in the segment. 

This is one to look at if you want to meet a functional family.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Chevy Volt? It's Complicated.

Real person charges her Volt.
It's one thing to drive the Chevy Volt around a parking lot on the West Side Piers of New York City.  It's another thing to own the car for a weekend.  First, let me say that  General Motors has spent a wad on developing electric technology for the car, although someone told me last weekend that his great-grandmother drove around in an electric car.  But that was then.  GM developed the EV1 and we all know what happened there--they crushed almost all of them after spending a billion dollars on a car that had a range of 60 miles and only a handful of customers.  Oops honey I have an MBA and forgot to add a gas engine for range.  That said, Reuters just published a story estimating how much money GM loses on every Volt.  GM came back with the statement--accurately--"Reuters’ estimate of the current loss per unit for each Volt sold is grossly wrong, in part because the reporters allocated product development costs across the number of Volts sold instead of allocating across the lifetime volume of the program, which is how business operates. The Reuters’ numbers become more wrong with each Volt sold."  GM notes that the investment in all the Volt technologies are applicable across many platforms--meaning we'll see those technologies in other GM cars.

Door for electric charger.  Door for putting gas in the car is on the passenger side.
Door open and charger plugged into the Volt.
Ordinary household outlet taking the Volt charger.  Photo is sideways because blogger is inept.
The current situation is that GM has an electric car that comes with a gas tank, the Chevy Volt.  They call it an extended range electric vehicle differentiating from a hybrid which is defined as a vehicle that is propelled by two powertrains or propulsion systems, battery electric and gasoline.  The Volt is a battery-operated, plug-in hybrid.  Here's how it works:  fully charged battery propels the car on battery only for 40 miles--in my case 37.  A 9.3 gallon gas tank holds premium fuel.  When the battery runs down completely after 40 or so miles, the gas fuels a generator that sends a charge to the electric motor as needed and stores remaining electric in  the battery.  The car continues to be propelled by electricity.  When you brake, energy is captured and used to recharge the battery.  That is called regenerative braking.  When you get home or to where you are going, you plug one end of the battery charger into a outlet of there is one available.  Then you open the door for the electrical charger, plug that into the car.   A green light goes on on the dashboard indicating that the car is charging.  A screen on the instrument panel tells you how long it will take to charge the battery fully--in my case using 120v it would take 13 hours, less if I had 240v.  What is downplayed by GM in the promotion of the Chevy Volt is that the gasoline engine does in fact help to power the car at high speeds.

Great looking car proving that new environmentally conscious cars don't have to look weird.
If you are supportive of the need to develop new technology to power automobiles, you'd be wowed by this vehicle. It is a trip to be in a plug-in hybrid and to know that you can travel, as I did, 435.4 miles on 6.3 gallons of gasoline, averaging 68.5 mpg.  And it is very sophisticated technology.  Those GM engineers know what they're doing.

Even though intellectually I knew the range of the car was in the 600 mile area, I saw those bars depleting on the battery on a dark, not-well-traveled road at night and I thought--hmmm, has AAA ever seen a Volt before?  Yes, GirlDriver had a brush with range anxiety, which is good because consumers who think about buying these new technologies have it lurking in their subconscious.  And to that point, most consumers are not buying either the Volt or the Nissan Leaf.    GM has sold about 16,000 Volts since its debut last year.  GM just idled the plant because it has too much inventory.  The major difference between the Leaf and the Volt is that the Leaf is all electric--there ain't no backup folks.  Range anxiety city.

I found driving the Volt a genuine pleasure.  I love its get up and go and had it running at 80 with no hiccups at all.  It's a real car.  It has a full complement of safety equipment and is gets five stars from government testing.  It does not have blind spot detection or some of the newer safety measures like pedestrian detection.  I didn't like the placement of the cup holders--high and too far back because of the battery storage in the center panel.  I had a hard time putting my drink in the holders and had to look down.  I really didn't like the very limited range of the AM and FM radio.

Other than that I thought the car was great.  There's one other problem and this is the biggest problem facing GM.  This 4-seater compact sedan cost $46,000.  There were $5,670 worth of options on my car with a base price of $40,000.  With compact sedans on the market that get 40 mpg and don't take premium fuel and additional expense for electric, it will be the rare consumer who buys this car--even with generous givebacks from the government. In addition, fuel economy on cars with only an internal combustion engine keeps improving year.  The monroney (sales sheet) says the consumer saves $7,600 in fuel costs over the average new vehicle.  I don't know what that means or what new vehicle they calculated against but, again, it does not include the cost of kilowatt hours you use to charge the battery.  In New York State the average rate currently is 6.668 cents per kilowatt hour.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Competing in a tough class, Mazda's CX-5 is up to it.

Exterior styling for people who don't want a compact SUV
 Doesn't Mazda's trademarked word SKYACTIV sound like something that connects you wirelessly to the universe?  It does to me.  When I hear the word or see it in print I immediately see myself sending and receiving messages from outer space.  But that's me:  I'm the playwright who wrote a musical about Microbes from Mars who hurtle to earth to steal Hollywood DNA and bring it back to Mars.
In reality SKYACTIV has nothing to do with interconnectivity or Mars.  It's funny that Jim O'Sullivan, president and CEO of Mazda North America, in a talk he gave, goes to lengths to tell us what SKYACTIV isn't.  Mazda needs to be clear about what it is because it has to do with Mazda's greatly improved ability to deliver Zoom-Zoom, which Mazda now calls sustainable Zoom-Zoom.   If you have experienced Zoom-Zoom, you know what I'm talking about.  If you haven't, you must, especially now that it's sustainable.
What is it? SKYACTIV is Mazda's let's-tweak-everything-and-make-it-more-zoom-zoom technology that combines engine, transmission, exhaust, body, steering and suspension.   In semi-layman's terms (semi because engineers are involved).  SKYACTIV combines a more fuel effiicient and lighter engine, with a new transmission and a cleaner exhaust system.  The SKYACTIV body is comprised of lighter stronger steel. They shaved 4.4 pounds off the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine making it 10 percent lighter than the previous one.  They added multi-hole direct fuel injectors, along with specially developed piston cavity shapes that ensure a shorter combustion time and suppress the impact on power and torque from engine knocking. Pumping loss also is decreased by employing dual sequential valve timing (S-VT).  (I told you it was "sort of" layman's terms.)  The net is that the engine has more torque, with a faster response time and a sportier ride, uses less fuel and lowers emissions without sacrificing performance.
A subtle, comfortable interior.
Steering and braking controls are very responsive and keep the driver engaged.  This is the new engineering that will be used in all new Mazda vehicles from here on out. 

The CX-5 competes with the best selling Honda CR-V which I drove last weekend and the Toyota RAV-4 which I drove in May.  Both of these vehicles delivered top performance in every way so the competition is stiff for a company that doesn't have the distribution network or the corporate heft of Toyota or Honda.

The CX-5 is powered by the SKYACTIV 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which is rated at 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque and can be combined with either a six-speed automatic or an available six-speed manual transmission on the front-drive CX-5There's all-wheel-drive CX-5 Grand Touring  also available.
Optional navi is easy to read.

EPA fuel economy for the CX-5 is 26 city/35 highway mpg for the front-wheel-drive model with the six-speed manual. The front-drive automatic  is estimated at 26 city/32 highway mpg, and an all-wheel-drive CX-5 (available only with a six-speed automatic) should get  earn 25 city/31 highway mpg.  Mazda says there's a diesel coming.  Base prices runs $21,790 - $29,390.
Being inside the CX-5 feels roomy and comfortable.  There's plenty of storage space.  if rear seat room is of concern to you as an owner, know that rear leg room is a little tight .  There's a standard USB port and optional Bluetooth and navigation, but Mazda hasn't gone overboard to enable drivers to connect--thank you Mazda for that.  As a class these vehicles can be noisy compared to other types of vehicles but I did not notice this as particularly annoying. 
Mazdas all have handsome interiors with a focus on simplicity--the designers, shall we say, have constraint, which, if we are holding onto our vehicles for longer periods of time, is a good thing.  We're not going to get tired of the interior because it doesn't overwhelm.  What is notable about this car in a compact SUV category is that is is fun to drive.  You're not going to ever get tired of that--go Zoom-Zoom.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Auto Loaner is also a Kind of Bank of the Future

I had lunch with my friend Gina Proia last week.  She is the Chief Communications Officer for Ally bank and has been with them throughout the mortgage foreclosures, etc.  I knew Ally Bank as GMAC and have watched its transition into Ally but have thought of them mostly as a lender for automotive.  They do finance many of the car loans through dealerships and in partnership with some of the auto companies and that is mostly how we define them.

Now we all hate the banks.  That's a given.  And don't think they don't know that.  But I was actually impressed by the retail products and services they have.  Ally Bank offers some compelling arguments for changing banks, granted a difficult thing to do when you have done business with a bank for as long as I have been with mine--over 20 years.

What's most interesting  is that the bank does not have any retail presence at all--i.e., it is not occupying every corner of New York City with a bank and thank you for that.  One day we'll walk past interesting shops again maybe?

Not having retail makes it hard for them to get the word out that they have a retail business but the no bricks and mortar benefit is obvious--they aren't paying rent in all those places, which has to be a huge bite out of Citibank, Chase, HBSC and other bank's bottom lines.  That they don't have to pay for all that retail space has to be one of the reasons that Ally Bank can provide its customers with real benefits.  That's really smart.

Ally Bank will let you get cash out of any other banks's ATM for free (they reimburse you for any fees you incur) and they have an App that you can download to your phone that tells you where the nearest ATM is. 

They offer interest bearing checking accounts with no minimum deposit, money market accounts, online savings accounts with competitive rates and high interest CDs with flexible term options, no penalty CDs in 11 month terms and raise your rate CDs in two-year and four-year terms.  They also offer IRA products.

All of their products offer no minimum deposit, no monthly maintenance fees, and daily compounded interest.  Chase Bank just helped themselves to maintenance fees on my account because I didn't have a balance of $7,000 in my no interest checking account. Are they just kidding around about the seven grand?  Apparently not.

Ally Bank is one of several banks have a feature that allows you to scan a check and get remote deposit.  They currently offer that via scanning and sending on a computer.  The ability to do it on your phone is coming later this year with phase two of their mobile application.  Very cool if, like me, you still get checks in the mail.  Ally eCheck Deposit supplements other deposit methods to Ally Bank accounts including transferring money
online from another financial institution, direct deposit, wire transfer and U.S. mail., for which Ally Bank provides postage paid envelopes.

I payed $40 for my last box of checks at Chase.  At Ally they would be free.  Free security software.  You can send money to people--say someone in your family needs money--electronically and for free.

"We have some tools on our site for consumers like a payment calculator that might be helpful for folks," says Proia.

"Also, we have a free financial literacy program called Ally Wallet Wise that covers many topics including auto financing."

 Is this virtualness the future of banking I asked Gina?  Say in 20 years there won't be any bricks and mortar banks?  She thinks we're moving in that direction.  I know she'd say that because she's in PR but it seems totally logical to me that banking will be virtual.  Should you have problems with your Ally banking you can reach a live person by phone or via online chat 24/7. You don't even have to go through 15 multiple choice menus that  raise your blood pressure to get to a live person.  Just type in the name you want to be referred by and check the subject matter and you are connected to a real person.  Customers can even preview current call-in wait times, if  applicable, at or by using Ally Mobile Banking.

Every company says they are focused on customer satisfaction but few actually are.  Now I'm not an Ally customer (yet) so I don't know if all these services and products work perfectly but you can see, they do have a customer focus. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good Program

This is a great outreach program that gives not-for-profit organizations a vehicle.  Toyota asks the public who should receive new Toyota vehicles.  A hundred organizations are chosen.  The final votes have been cast for this year and the results are in.  Willing organizations begin receiving vehicles in September 2012.  Toyota has awared more than $7 million in vehicles and cash grants over the last two years. 

Tuesday, August 21 marked the last day of voting in Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good program, a national philanthropic program that awards 100 cars to 100 U.S. nonprofits over the course of 100 consecutive days. Winners were selected each day through public voting on Facebook at

Each day five nonprofit organizations were profiled on the 100 Cars for Good Facebook page where the public could vote for their favorite organization. The organization with the most votes at the end of the day won a new Toyota vehicle while the four runners-up each day received a $1,000 cash grant from Toyota. In total, 100 new Toyota vehicles and $400,000 in cash grants are being awarded to non-profit organizations across the country.
“It is rewarding and inspiring to see the response Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good program has received from the public,” said Jim Lentz, president and chief executive officer of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. “Over the course of two years, this program has awarded more than $7 million in vehicles and cash grants to local nonprofit organizations across the country, as well as helping to raise awareness  to hundreds more.  We are very pleased to have the opportunity to help these worthwhile organizations broaden their impact in communities all across the nation, and we thank the public for their support in determining the winners.”
Winning organizations offer services in a variety of areas, including: education, safety, animal welfare food banks, and human services for children and adults.  Cool, huh?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Suzuki Kizashi with All-Wheel Drive

Great looking car.
I wish Suzuki had sold more than 11,000 cars this year because they have good car.  The use of the singular in the previous sentence isn't a grammatical error, but it is a slight exaggeration.  Suzuki sells two cars in the U.S., the Kizashi and the Aerio SX4.  Oh, yes, and to date in 2012, they have sold 1 Forenza/Reno.  They sell crossovers too, the Grand Vitara and the Equator.  Compare that to their Japanese counterparts.  Toyota has sold 625,000 cars, Nissan, 389,000, Mazda 110,000.  You get the drift.

 This is a shame.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, Suzuki makes good cars.  I drove the Kizashi  2012 Sport GTS with AWD.  It has a 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder engine that delivers 180 horsepower and 170 lb.-ft. of torque.  That translates into plenty of power for this sedan and it is available with a six-speed manual transmission.  It also comes with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).  Mine came with dual zone climate control and cloth seats which I vastly prefer over leather especially when wearing shorts in hot weather.  (How long does it take you to peel your legs off leather seats in the summer?  It takes me around 4 painful minutes.)

The interior is very well designed, plenty of leg room, easy to manage controls, and cool touches that aren't so terminally hip you feel diminished if you're not in the latest fashion.

Roomy, sleek interior.

Very cool IP.
Fuel economy is competitive at 22 city/29 highway/25 combined.  The GS has some very nice features included in the base price:  sunroof, tilt and telescope steering wheel, power driver's seat, 18-inch wheels, a 425-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system with 10 speakers, iPod and MP3 USB port, front fog lights, sport aero body kit, sport wheels, sport tuned suspension and sport design steering wheel.

In the highly competitive sedan category, the Suzuki Kizashi lines up against the best selling Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.  It competes with the best of them.  If there is a Suzuki dealer in your area, you can bet that they are hungry for business and will very happy to see you walk through the door.  Go for a test drive.  See what they're offering.  The MSRP on my test vehicle was around $26,000.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Ford's C-MAX Rates 47 MPG Fuel Economy City and Highway

This is kind of cool.  Ford Motor Company once again raises the hybrid fuel-economy bar with the all-new Ford C-MAX Hybrid, which is now officially EPA-certified at 47 mpg city, 47 mpg highway and 47 mpg combined – beating Toyota Prius v by up to 7 mpg.

Below are a few highlights and attached is a release with further information. Please let me know if you have
any questions or if you would like to speak with someone at Ford. Thanks.

·         All-new 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid delivers EPA-certified 47 mpg city, 47 mpg highway ratings – 7 mpg better than Toyota Prius v on the highway – for a 47 mpg combined rating

·         Ford’s first hybrid to achieve equal city and highway ratings, the versatile C-MAX Hybrid also is expected to offer 15 class-exclusive features such as the available hands-free liftgate

·         C-MAX Hybrid launches this fall as part of Ford’s power of choice strategy to deliver leading fuel economy across its lineup while tripling electrified vehicle production capacity by 2013

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

GM Reuses Shipping Crates and Collaborates with Other Organizations to Make an Urban Garden

General Motors is unveiling Cadillac Urban Gardens on Merritt, a community project where 250 shipping crates from Orion Assembly – home of the Buick Verano and Chevrolet Sonic – are converted into raised garden beds.
The once-abandoned southwest Detroit parking lot will now benefit nearby residents, providing them nutritious and locally grown food.
“Instead of recycling this material, we found a direct reuse, which saves energy and resources,” said John Bradburn, GM’s manager of waste reduction efforts. “We seek opportunities for projects in our backyard that reduce environmental impact and strengthen communities.”
This project is a result of collaboration with eight-time GM Supplier of the Year Ideal Group, and composting company Detroit Dirt. The soil, supplied by Detroit Dirt, is sourced from local partners, including Detroit Zoo animal manure, Astro Café coffee grounds, and composted food scraps from the Marriott Hotel in GM’s world headquarters and GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, home of the Chevy Volt.
Several organizations helped make the project a reality. Detroit Dirt provided urban planning expertise, and Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision created the urban environmental plan; Rush Trucking delivered the GM-donated crates for volunteers from Ideal Group, Congress of Communities, Better Day Ministries and Southwest Detroit residents to begin planting.
“Our mission is to create a space that promotes the health and security of our community,” said Frank Venegas, Ideal Group chairman. “Cadillac Urban Gardens is producing vegetables, community health and growth.  This vision came true with fast action on the part of our collaborative partners.  In four short months, we are well on our way to linking sustainability with producing community growth.”

Invitations for Southwest Detroit families and residents to participate in the urban gardening project are facilitated through community partners like Detroit Cristo Rey High School, Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, Southwest Detroit Business Association and Community Health and Social Services Center. The lot borders a residential neighborhood and Ideal Group.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Minivan? Build It A Shrine

What's your passion?  Can it fit in the Van?

All this nonsense about how women don't want to be driving minivans is just nutty.  The minivan has saved millions from backaches and headaches since its introduction and those who did the heavy lifting in minivans (Moms) should be building shrines to it.   Instead, the minivan has been snubbed.  The minivan is one of the most useful, considerate vehicles ever created.  Easy access, flat floor, plenty of seats, comfortable, high seating position.  It's just great.  And if Mom wants a sexy car, just get a second hand Miata for her and she's off to the beach to meet up with friends from high school without the kids.

I drove the Nissan Quest a few weeks ago.  Now, Nissan is known for polarizing designs.  Have you seen the Cube?  And the Quest is based on a trapezoid so it's pretty polarizing.  Gotta hand it to Nissan.  It doesn't see itself coming and going.  It has the soul of individuality.  And we all know what Goethe says about individuality: "Certain defects are necessary for the existence of individuality."  I guess what I'm saying is that I applaud Nissan for making an attempt to break the mold and by the same token I don't love, love, love the design.

But I certainly would tell my friends who are soccering and shopping that they must--absolutely must--consider a minivan and that the Nissan Quest is one to test drive.

Note the ambient temperature on the nav screen
My test car was the 2012 Quest 3.5 LE powered by a 3.5 liter 6-cylinder engine with 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque.  Fuel economy is an undistinguished 19 City/24 Highway.

The vehicle is pretty packed with options including  it cost $42,365 including destination charge. Not cheap.  But it has desirables inside and out.  Power seats, fold-flat second row Captain's chairs, second row sliding and reclining Captain's chairs, leather and wood appointments, tilt and telescoping steering column, navigation, a well equipped entertainment system, automatic Xenon headlights and foglights, one touch power sliding doors and liftgate, 18" aluminum alloy wheels and state of the art safety.
I don't have kids, but I'm all about taking this land craft on a big, big road trip.  Sleep in the back, cook out?  I'm on it.  


Monday, July 2, 2012

Art of Another Kind at the Guggenheim

Art of Another Kind at the Goog is sponsored by BMW, which is my segue.  The exhibit, which runs until September 12 is a retrospective of non-objective paintings and sculpture.  There are about 100 works by 70 artists inclduing  Karel Appel, Louise Bourgeois, Lucio Fontana, Grace Hartigan, Ybes Klein, Willem DeKooning, Isamu Noguchi, Jackson Pollock, Takeo Yamaguchi among others. The exhibit explores international trends in abstraction in the decade before the Guggenheim opened in October 1959.  It was a time when vanguard artists working in the U.S and Europe pioneered abstract expressionism, Cobra and Art Informel.  It was an exciting and open time in the art world.  Ii thought the exhibit brought these artists back into focus and I was happy to visit old friends and meet some new ones.  Something well worth doing on a hot weekend in the city.  There's a cafe at the Goog and at the church next door where I overheard a guy having a piece of quiche (and he was a real man) say, "Not for nothin' this quiche is pretty good.  For a church?"

One of the things that struck me was how many of the represented artists hailed from small towns and hamlets.  Jackson Pollock--Cody, WY, Clifford Still--Grandin, ND, Ad Reinhardt--Buffalo, NY (OK not a small town), Mark Rothko, Dvinsk, Russia (I haven't a clue.)


Hope you'll take the time to see this wonderful exhibit.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


It was a day like this.  Rainy, overcast, depressing.  Or it would have been depressing but I got invited by good-looking biker and director of communications for the Motorcycle Industry Association, Ty VanHooydonk to join him along with The Recreational Off-highway Vehicle Association to ride ROVs on Randall’s Island under the Robert F. Kennedy (aka Triborough) bridge. David Alan Grier, who was nominated for a Tony this year for his role as Sportin’ Life in Porgy and Bess, was also along for the ride. Who could resist?
Randall’s Island is located on the East River between East Harlem, the South Bronx and Astoria, Queens.  The island has great views of the East River. Aside: Randall’s Island is where Robert Moses operated his fiefdom.    
The first thing we learn in our ROV session is that ROV’s aren’t ATVs.  ROVs have a steering wheel, acceleration foot pedal and a brake foot pedal and they are “driven.”  ATVs have a handlebar for steering, a throttle controlled by pushing a thumb lever next to the handgrip and a hand lever(s) for front and/or rear brake(s) and a foot pedal for the rear brake.  ATVs are “ridden” , not driven.  Unlike ATVs, which can be ridden by small children, ROVs are designed to be driven by those who are 16 or over.  ROVs have rollover protection, side panel doors or netting for protection, grab handles and can accommodate passengers and cargo.
Under a bridge in the middle of rain day in New York on an island other than Manhattan one could not help feeling very Schwarzeneggerish.  We are a small band of rov-ers practicing maneuvers—backing up, going over obstacles, cornering, turning.  It was very post-apocalyptic.  But fun, don’t get me wrong.  I loved every minute of it. 
We learned some rules of the road.  Safety is emphasized.  Wear the right gear including helmet, gloves, long pants, sturdy jacket.  Familiarize yourself with your vehicle.  Learn the capabilities of the different vehicles.  We did not have a steep incline to try, but the instructors assured us that they climb with ease.  Then we hit the trail and rode around Randall's Island. 
Several different manufacturers make these ROVs including Arctic Cat, BRP, Kawasaki,  Polaris and Yamaha.  There’s even an all electric, which allows you to enjoy the outdoors without the accompanying sound of a motor.  I love that!
The ROVHA offers a basic training course online (  Take the course if you are considering getting involved in this sport.  One can improve skills beyond basic but it takes some seat time.  No one should feel they know it all—ever.  When VanHooydonk and I chatted about motorcycle riding a few years ago he mentioned he’d be riding for over 20 years and was still learning.  That impressed on me the need to know your level and your limitations. 

The ROHVA is also a member of TreadLightly (, encouraging participants to take care of the environment they enjoy. 
Was it fun?  You bet.  Can you role play as you learn?  I did.  I’d love to know what role David Alan Grier was playing in his head, but I didn’t get a chance to ask him.  He had to get back to NYC for his evening performance in Porgy and Bess.  Talk about fun.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012



The only Clean Diesel offering in the compact coupe category goes on sale in August

• Volkswagen’s sixth TDI® Clean Diesel model available in the U.S.

Herndon, VA -  Volkswagen of America, Inc. today announced pricing for the Beetle TDI® Clean Diesel coupe. The Beetle TDI is the third model in the Beetle lineup and joins the 2.5-liter five-cylinder and 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline models, which launched to great acclaim in 2011. The Beetle TDI features VW’s 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct-injection Clean Diesel engine that produces 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. When equipped with a manual transmission, the model has manufacturer fuel economy estimates of 41 mpg highway and 32 mpg city.

Model Lineup
Three trims are available with the TDI® Clean Diesel powertrain. All models feature a standard six-speed manual transmission with Volkswagen’s acclaimed six-speed DSG® dual-clutch automatic transmission as an option. All three are very well equipped, with standard features such as power windows with one-touch up/down; cruise control; V-Tex Leatherette seating; front-center armrest; the “Käeferfach” secondary glovebox; Bluetooth® technology; leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel with audio controls; three-color ambient lighting; auxiliary instrument package; Keyless entry with push-button start; SiriusXM Satellite Radio®; and a Media Device Interface with iPod® cable.

Manual $23,295
Automatic $24,395
The base TDI model comes standard with unique 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, all the equipment listed above, and an interior and exterior chrome package. The standard RCD310 audio system has an AM/FM radio, CD player, Bluetooth® technology, SiriusXM Satellite Radio® and eight speakers

TDI with Sunroof
Manual $24,895
Automatic $25,995
This model adds a panoramic tilt/slide sunroof and Volkswagen’s touchscreen Premium VIII radio to the Beetle TDI trim.

TDI with Sunroof, Sound, and Navigation

Manual $26,195
Automatic $27,295
In addition to the above features, the top model includes the RNS 315 navigation system and the award-winning Fender® Premium Audio system.

All prices exclude a destination charge of $770.

2013 Beetle TDI Pricing
2.0L 140 hp TDI® engine, six-speed manual transmission; 17-inch alloy wheels; power windows with one-touch up/down; cruise-control; V-Tex leatherette seating; trip computer; front center-armrest; auxiliary instrument package; keyless access with push-button start; RCD 310 eight-speaker sound system with aux-in and Media Device Interface with iPod® cable; SiriusXM® Satellite Radio; three-color ambient lighting
+ Six-speed DSG® transmission
TDI w/ Sunroof
(Includes Beetle TDI features)
+ Panoramic sunroof with power tilt and slide
+ Six-speed DSG® transmission
TDI w/ Sunroof, Sound, and Navi
(Includes TDI w/ Sunroof features)
+ RNS 315 touchscreen navigation, Fender Premium Audio System
+ six-speed DSG® transmission
$     770
All Prices Exclude Destination Charge

About Volkswagen of America, Inc.

Founded in 1955, Volkswagen of America, Inc. is headquartered in Herndon, Virginia. It is a subsidiary of Volkswagen AG, headquartered in Wolfsburg, Germany. Volkswagen’s operations in the United States include research and development, parts and vehicle processing, parts distribution centers, sales, marketing and service offices, financial service centers, and its state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Volkswagen is one of the world's largest producers of passenger cars and Europe's largest automaker. Volkswagen sells the Beetle, Eos, Golf, Golf R, GTI, Jetta, Jetta SportWagen, Passat, CC, Tiguan, Touareg and Routan vehicles through approximately 600 independent U.S. dealers. Visit Volkswagen of America online at or to learn more.

“DSG”, “TDI”, “VW”, “Volkswagen”, all model names and the Volkswagen logo are registered trademarks of Volkswagen AG. “Bluetooth” is a registered trademark of Bluetooth SIG, Inc. “Fender” is a registered trademark of Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. “iPod” is a registered trademark of Apple, Inc. “SiriusXM” and “SiriusXM Satellite Radio” are trademarks of SiriusXM Radio, Inc.

Where stated, fuel economy values (mpg) are EPA estimates. All other fuel economy values are forecast manufacturer values for the USA; those EPA estimates were not available at time of release.

MSRPs exclude taxes, title, options, and dealer charges.