Some Good News

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Thanksgiving’s not far off, so I thought it would be a good time to take stock of some of the good things going on in the car industry right now. For instance:

* 300-plus horsepower engines that get 30 mpg –

As much qvetching as you hear about “gas hogs,” the fact is that never before have such high-powered vehicles been so fuel-efficient. In the ’70s and ’80s, 200 hp V-8s were lucky to deliver mileage in the mid-high teens. But today, we’ve got 300-plus hp V-6s (as in the new Camaro and Mustang) that are capable of 30 MPG on the highway – and 400 hp V-8s that get better mileage in city driving than ’70s-era V-8s with half (or less) the power got on the highway. We’ve also got fours that make more power than V-8s used to (example: the 2012 Hyundai Sonata’s 200 hp 2.0 liter turbocharged engine) while getting better gas mileage (34 highway) than most current V-6s and pretty much every “economy” car of the previous 10 years.

That’s having your cake and eating it, too.

* Planet-friendly and still fun to drive –

The environmentalists ought to be ecstatic (but of course, they’re not). New cars – any new car – produces virtually no harmful emissions at the tailpipe. Better than 97 percent of the total volume of the exhaust stream of a current-year passenger car is nothing more noxious than water vapor and carbon dioxide (an inert gas). All the really bad stuff – the stuff that made your eyes water and browned the horizon over major cities like LA – has been processed out by efficient combustion and after-combustion exhaust scrubbing (catalytic converters).  The pollution problem is solved – was solved.

More than a decade ago. 

* High-tech keeps getting cheaper –

Like microwave ovens and VCRs, automotive electronics such as on-board GPS navigation systems and DVD players (as well as heated seats)  began as high-end luxuries for the affluent only – but are now affordable amenities for the masses. Just about every 2012 model year vehicle can be ordered with factory-installed GPS (or better yet, buy an even lower-cost aftermarket unit) and comforts like heated seats are now commonly offered in mid-priced, family-type cars well under $30,000   instead of almost exclusively in higher-end cars over $50,000 – as was the case not too very long ago.

* Great headlights –

To get a feel for how many steps we’ve taken in this department, find a car from the 1970s – or even the 1990s – and go for a drive at night. You’ll be amazed by how weak headlights used to be compared to what we take fro granted now. Modern lighting systems are to yesterday’s sealed beam units what a displacement on demand, direct-injected, variable cam timing-equipped modern V-8 is to a Ford flathead from t he 1930s. The latest systems even self-level and steer with you in a corner – in addition to turning night into daytime at the turn of a switch.

* All-wheel-drive is everywhere (and affordable) –

This design feature, which used to be found only in a few oddball Audis and Subarus, is now offered by every major manufacturer and in bread and butter family cars, crossovers, minivans – just about any kind of vehicle in any class/price range. AWD is a better choice for most people than truck-type (and usually, part-time) 4WD systems, which operate in rear-wheel-drive (worst traction on slick surfaces) when the 4WD’s not engaged and (when the 4WD is engaged) should not be used on dry, paved roads (especially when cornering on dry, paved roads) whereas AWD is specifically designed to give you more traction on dry, paved roads during high-speed cornering – as well as better traction on wet/snow-covered roads.

* There are no slow cars anymore –

Some new cars are much faster than others, but there are no new cars that need 15-30 seconds just to reach 60 mph – with top speeds not much higher than that. We are marinating in performance today and people in their 20s have no clue just how good they’ve got it. A current-year Camry V-6 is quicker than an ’80s-era Mustang GT V-8. A new Prius is quicker than a ’77 Trans-Am. Most current-year economy cars can do 0-60 in about 8 seconds, twice as quick as an old (air-cooled) VW Beetle. They’ll also do 120-plus MPH on top, too – and run 80 all day, without feeling like they’re about to chuck their pistons through the oil pan.

* We have more choices than ever  –

There are 48 major brands of car, each brand typically having at least six (and sometimes twice that many) individual models in its lineup, ranging from small economy cars to large SUVs to sports cars to luxury cars, with a growing number of niche and specialty cars that defy categorization – such as the Nissan Cube, Mini Clubman, Ford Flex and many others.

There’s a vehicle for every lifestyle, preference, budget – tailored to please our every whim. And also, cars – at least some of them – are becoming affordable again. For example, you can buy a brand-new Nissan Versa for less than $10,000 – sticker. Interest rates are at their lowest levels in decades, too – and the car companies are generally desperate to make a sale, so you – the buyer – are in the catbird seat.

It’s a lot to be thankful for!



  1. Of course, the dramatic improvements in power, economy and ammenities are a result of sophisticated electronics and computerization. And as you have pointed out, it is almost impossible for the owner to work on these electronic gizmos. As you also noted, these electronics will eventually fail at some point, and be costly to replace…if such replacements are even available.

    So there’s no free lunch here. Perhaps the biggest question is how long before these components begin to fail? Hard to say. Seem to recall you guesstimated about 15 years or so. If we get 15 years before these cars become “disposable……” well then perhaps it is worth it.

    • What you say about electronics / computerized components is true: they fail eventually (I’m thankful for that too, that’s how I make my living). But…the free market will provide. You can go into Autozone, O’Reilly, Advance or other parts stores now and get just about any part for practically any vehicle. If not one of the big box parts stores, it’s undoubtedly available on line. Don’t you think that once the manufacturers start to discontinnue parts, someone else will step in and offer aftermarket? Especially on commonly sold vehicles.

      The reason I believe this is because engine and driveline components are now based on superior metallurgy and use superior lubricants than their ancestors did. Due to CNC machining, mating surfaces as well as all tolerances are tighter. Plus metal coatings on the body and undercarriage surfaces are far superior to what we had in the past. So the machines themselves should outlive their predecessors. Consequently there should be a good market for replacement electronic components on down the road. Someone will want that profit.

      • One of the reasons I like Ford Mustangs is that the aftermarket is -huge-. Sure a Ford part might be unavailable or expensive but there will be an aftermarket part available for purchase. Only on the bleeding edge are the choices limited.

        The problems of the aftermarket providing are going to be where they always have been, the low production odd ball cars that were never popular and don’t share their stop-go-turn parts with anything else. But there aren’t many of those in production these days.


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