Toyota’s Recall is Exactly What Detroit Needs

For years, it has been a common perception – or misperception as the case may be – that Japanese cars, particularly Toyota and Honda, were of better quality than their American counterparts, Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler.

Don’t get me wrong, American cars did plenty to substantiate those perceptions, especially considering they were behind the curve when it came to moving from massive trucks and SUVs to more fuel efficient sedans, compact cars, and hybrids.

However, with the news the Toyota has recalled 2.3 million vehicles – including some of its best selling models –due to a problem that could make the vehicle’s gas pedal stick, and its announcement that the company will halt sales of all affected models for the time being, is the tide finally starting to turn in Detroit’s favor?

Over the past several years, American car makers – Ford in particular – have received praise for drastic improvements in reliability and quality. In fact, the Ford Fusion was recently named Motor Trend’s Car of the Year for 2010, which is a pretty big deal.

I think when you couple Detroit’s momentum with Toyota’s huge setback, I think we’re on the verge of viewing American cars as being at least as good as, if not better than, their foreign counter parts.

What do you think? Leave your comments below!

Ford Wins in Detroit – More Sales Next?

So much for American cars being unable to shake their “not good enough” image!

Kicking off what it hopes will be a strong year, Ford won both the Car and Truck of the Year awards at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show. The Ford Fusion Hybrid won Car of the Year, while the Ford Transit Connect van won Truck of the Year.

I know you’re probably saying to yourself, “I’d hope a domestic car maker would win awards in the Detroit Auto Show.” 

Truth be told, despite being a domestic car guy, that thought definitely crossed my mind.  So, yes, to some degree Ford winning both awards can be taken with a grain of salt.

That being said, it’s undeniable that the American car manufacturers – especially Ford – have made considerable improvements in reliability, design and quality over the past several years.

(Please note, Daily Fuel Economy Tip does not have any affiliation with any car maker, domestic or foreign.)

Unfortunately, these improvements haven’t necessarily translated to much better sales. As was reported in USA Today of the 10 best selling vehicles in 2009, all but four were Japanese vehicles. The Ford Fusion was the only domestic sedan (read: non-truck) that made the list.

Let’s hope that for the sake of the U.S. economy – in particular, the manufacturing sector – the awards for Ford are a precursor to higher sales across the board for domestic vehicles.

Hybrid Sales Fall Nearly 10% in 2008

It seems even popular and trendy hybrid vehicles were unable to buck the downward trend experienced in 2008 by the automotive industry.

Despite record high gasoline and diesel fuel prices, sales of hybrid vehicles fell nearly 10% during 2008, according to numbers released by the Automotive News Data Center.  However, in spite of the over-arching bad news, there was some good news for one of the Big 3: General Motors increased their hybrid sales by almost 200 percent.

The “headline news” regarding a 10% decrease in hybrid sales seems pretty bad.  After all, in the first half of 2008 we had both the release of several new hybrid models and saw the U.S. national average gas price climb above $4 per gallon for the first time ever.

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Will President Obama Get Alternative Energy on Track?

As part of Barack Obama’s message during his Presidential campaign, he promised to help modernize and green America’s energy and transportation systems.  (Click here and here to see what Obama promised on the trail.)

Now, after the election, President-elect Obama is pushing alternative energy as part of his expected to be many hundreds of billions of dollars stimulus package.  According to the Obama camp, not only will the push towards alternative energy and more fuel efficient vehicles help protect America from unstable oil producing countries, but it will also help to create and save millions of non-exportable jobs within our borders.

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A Big Three Resurgence? Don’t Hold Your Breath.

The Big 3 American car manufacturers – General Motors, Ford and Chrysler – used to be the backbone of the American economy.  They were the prototypical blue collar, middle class employers, where a hard day’s work meant putting together a great American product for a good wage and benefits.

Now, these companies are more of a running punchline than American icons.  While all three are working hard to stay afloat and adapt with the times, it appears that they’re going to face very strong headwinds in order to keep their heads above water.

While I certainly have faith that all three companies will make it through their current problems in some form or fashion, I think it’s going to take a while before they’re able to completely turn it around and become profitable businesses again.

According to a recent poll on Daily Fuel Economy Tip, I’m certainly not the only one who thinks this way.

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I Bet You’re Excited About Plug-in Hybrids

One of the most promising “save the world” vehicles is the plug-in hybrid.  Much of the allure of these cars comes from the fact they’re not borne of some super technology or some untested alternative fuel, but from the fact that at their very core, all they are is essentially a combination of the best features of both electric and gasoline powered cars.

After charging, plug-in hybrids have the ability to run for long periods of time exclusively on batteries, which obviously reduces gasoline consumption and harmful emissions.  They are also able to drive as “regular” fuel efficient gas powered cars, so you don’t have to stop every 200 miles to recharge the car’s batteries.

For as cool as these cars are, will people actually buy them once they hit the market?  After all, there have been a countless number of products that consumers thought were neat, but weren’t really interested in purchasing.

So, is it worth it for the reeling auto industry to invest in infrastructure necessary to mass produce these cars?  According to a recent poll, not only is it worth it for car makers to do so, but it would probably stupid for them not to do so.

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Which Presidential Candidate Has the Best Alternative Energy Plan?

Some of the most important issues of the 2008 Presidential campaign revolve around alternative energy and breaking our dependence on foreign oil.  Thanks to our current energy crunch, Americans have had to deal with much higher prices for gasoline and energy, and are likely to face record high heating bills this winter.

On top of the economic pain, it’s hard to deny that the green movement is in full effect.  Since it’s pretty hard to deny the link between our use of fossil fuels and our current environmental problems – most notably, global warming – an alternative energy plan predicated on carbon neutral resources is extremely important to a lot of voters.

So, which candidate won over the most Americans with his energy plan?  Right now, it’s kind of hard to tell.

According to a recent poll on Daily Fuel Economy Tip, most Americans are torn over whether either, neither, or both Presidential candidates will be able to implement a solid alternative energy plan.

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Who Should Pay For Fuel Efficient Car Plants – Big 3 or the Federal Government?

It’s no secret that higher gas prices have hit America pretty hard.  While higher gas prices have placed quite a financial strain on the American public, at the end of the day, the “group” that might be effected the most might not be Americans in general, rather the Big 3 American car makers – General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.

After spending years building up the infrastructure to produce profitable trucks and SUVs, higher gas prices have really hurt sales at the Big 3 American car makers.  In an effort to stop the financial bleeding, many truck and SUV plants have been shut down, costing thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales.

These current conditions have led the senior management of these car companies to ask the Federal Government for some financial help in the form of low interest loans to help convert truck and SUV plants into facilities which produce smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles.

While this Federal intervention may seem like a good thing – after all, a healthy manufacturing sector has always been good for the American economy – according to a recent poll, Americans appear to be pretty torn over whether or not the Federal Government should help the Big 3.

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Are Hybrids a Waste of Money?

About three years ago, as the price of gasoline began creeping up, hybrid cars started becoming more and more popular. While this makes perfect sense, I always kind of felt that people were buying these hybrids – in particular, the Toyota Prius – in an attempt to own the “in” car.

My theory shifted dramatically when things really hit the fan earlier this year, and many of us were paying in excess of $4 per gallon to fill up our cars. At that point, owning a hybrid went from simply being the cool thing to do to the financially and environmentally smart way to get around town. After all, reducing your gasoline consumption can save both money and the environment.

So, owning a hybrid should be a win/win situation, right? Not necessarily.

While there’s no doubt that hybrid cars get great gas mileage, it’s not as if this increase fuel efficiency comes for free; you’re going to pay a premium to own that hybrid.

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Latest CAFE Statistics Show Car Manufacturers Are Making Progress

While many of us have become increasingly critical of the lack of gas friendly vehicles available to us (just check out many of the posts and comments on this site), it doesn’t mean that the major car manufacturers aren’t trying to make some progress.

Based on the latest CAFE statistics, the average gas mileage for new cars sold in the United States has actually gone up nearly 10% in the last four years.

For those of you who don’t know, CAFE is short for “Corporate Average Fuel Economy,” which is essentially a set of laws/regulations created by the United States Congress back in the 1970s to try and get car manufacturers to produce more fuel efficient vehicles. If a car manufacturer fails to meet the CAFE requirements, it must pay a penalty to the Federal Government.

Recently CAFE released its statistics to include all of the cars and light trucks (which include SUVs, vans and minivans) sold in the United States for 2007. Considering we’ve been in a “green push” for well over a year now, I wanted to see if in fact 2007 was a year of progress as far as gas mileage is concerned.

According to CAFE statistics, back in 2004 the “Total Fleet” gas mileage, which accounts for all foreign and domestic passenger cars and light trucks, was 24.6 mpg. By the end of 2007, the Total Fleet gas mileage had risen to 26.7 mpg – an increase of 8.5 percent.

While that might not seem like a very big gain, consider this: on average, Americans use over 400 million gallons of gasoline each day, so if every car on the road got 8.5% better gas mileage, we’d use 34 million less gallons of gasoline each day – or nearly 12.5 billion less gallons of gasoline each year.

Despite this very good news, there are some unnerving statistics in the latest CAFE report, namely, domestic cars continue to fall further behind their foreign counterparts when it comes to fuel economy.

Back in 2004, the average gas mileage for a domestic car (this does not include light trucks) was 29.9 MPG. By 2007, the average gas mileage had increased to 30.7 MPG – a jump of roughly 2.7%. Foreign cars on the other hand, went from 28.7 MPG in 2004 to 32.1 MPG in 2007 – a jump of nearly 12%.

I’m not sure which statistic is more eye opening; the fact that in 2004 domestic cars had a better average gas mileage than foreign cars, or that over the past four years, foreign cars have gained 12% in gas mileage while American cars have eked out a measly 3% gain.

Hopefully these numbers will continue to climb higher as more fuel efficient cars make their way to the market, and people begin to realize that they probably don’t need that huge urban assault vehicle to commute to and from work.

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