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Monday, August 22, 2011

Ferrari fetches record $16m

Ferrari fetches record $16m
Katya Kazakina New York

This 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa prototype has fetched $US16.4 million, making it the most expensive car ever sold at auction. Photo: Bloomberg

A RED 1957 Ferrari has become the most expensive car sold at auction after fetching $US16.4 million ($A15.7 million).

The Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa prototype, which competed in the Le Mans 24-hour race, was on the block with hundreds of other collectible cars during a series of auctions coinciding with the annual Monterey Car Week gathering in California.

Despite recent sharemarket turmoil, buyers competed aggressively for trophy autos, establishing records for cars and auction houses.

''The ultra-rich remain ultra-rich,'' said Marcel Massini, a Swiss-based Ferrari historian, who attended several auctions last week. ''The very, very best sells easily and incredibly high.''

''The stock market being volatile almost helped us,'' said Max Girardo, managing director of RM Auctions in Europe. It makes classic cars even more desirable, he said, because they are seen as safe tangible assets.

RM Auctions set a record for a Mercedes-Benz with the $US9.7 million sale of a silver 1937 540K Spezial Roadster. The same model fetched $US8.25 million four years ago, according to Mr Girardo.

One of the star lots at the auction house Bonhams, a 1925 Rolls-Royce New Phantom, custom-designed for the Bengal tiger hunting expeditions of India's Maharajah of Kotah, failed to sell. It was expected to bring $US750,000 to $US1 million.

Also unsold was a 1963 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III Drophead Coupe owned by Sammy Davis jnr, which was expected to bring between $US475,000 and $US550,000.

At another auction held by Gooding and Co, a 1931 Duesenberg, which was expected to fetch up to $US7 million, sold for $US10.34 million, topping the $US4.5 million auction record for a ''Duesy''.

The car was commissioned by Captain George Whittell jnr, who had a pet lion and a 162-square-kilometre Lake Tahoe estate. He liquidated his entire stock portfolio for $US50 million just two weeks before the 1929 crash.

At RM Auctions, Steve McQueen's slate-gray 1970 Porsche 911s, which featured in the movie Le Mans, sold for $US1.4 million, setting a record for the model at auction.

This 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa prototype has fetched $US16.4 million, making it the most expensive car ever sold at auction.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ford Focus Electric: Delayed or ‘On Schedule?

Ford Focus Electric: Delayed or ‘On Schedule?

Will Ford Motor Co.’s electric powered Focus compact car get to market on time? Ford says yes but some expectant buyers say the company has actually pushed back and scaled down the car’s launch.
The discussion began on the My Focus Electricforum in which a prospective customer complained that the car wouldn’t be available in his his area until next spring. The writer was from the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina, which is among the 19 initial markets Ford listed earlier for the Focus Electric. Ford has long said it would begin delivering the cars by the end of this year.
So, why the apparent delay?
A Ford spokesman says the launch is still on schedule and that while cars will begin trickling to customers in December, the real ramp-up of deliveries won’ t occur until 2012.
“It was never our plan to have 100,000 cars on the market in December,” he says, adding that rolling out a new car “isn’t like introducing a new iPad.”
But in some ways the new car is like the latest consumer-electronic device. Demand for electric cars these days is high relative to supply, so any perceived lengthening of the wait is magnified. Ford also may not have been clear enough about the planned scope of the initial launch. The car maker now says that with early production of the car, it will focus on filling orders in the New York area and California, which are the biggest markets.
The plan seems to downgrade the other launch markets. Here’s the original list: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, Phoenix, Portland, Raleigh Durham, Richmond, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tucson and Washington, D.C.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Google's First Self-Driving Car Crash Was Caused By a Human

Google's First Self-Driving Car Crash Was Caused By a Human
If a self-driving car hits another car, who takes the blame? Police in Mountain View, Calif. might have asked that question last week when one of Google'sautomated vehicles got into a fender bender.

Japolnik received photos from a source that witnessed the crash, which took place near Google's headquarters in Mountain View. Both cars involved in the accident were Prisues, but Google's self-driving car is identifiable by the equipment on its roof. Google hasn't released an accident report, but a source later told NBC Bay Area that there were actually five cars involved. Google's Prius struck another Prius, which then hit a Honda Accord which hit another Accord, which rounded out the pile-up by hitting a third Prius.

Ironically enough, the self-driving car wasn't actually driving itself when the accident happened.

"Safety is our top priority," a Google spokesperson told the Business Insider. "One of our goals is to prevent fender-benders like this one, which occurred while a person was manually driving the car."

Google gave more details to NBC. "I would also like to point out that the cars have traveled 160,000 miles autonomously without incident," Google said. "[The accident] was earlier this week in Mountain View."

The company first announced that it was developing self-driving cars last October. At the time it said it had already clocked more than 140,000 miles around the Bay Area in these cars.

In June, Nevada passed a law requiring the state's Department of Motor Vehicles to create regulations for the ownership and operation of self-driving cars. But Japolnik points out that there are no such laws in California. Officials say testing the vehicles is okay, as long as there is a human in the front seat to take over if something goes haywire.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Under cloak of secrecy, new cars will get tested at Mid-Ohio track

Under cloak of secrecy, new cars will get tested at Mid-Ohio track

The next race on the IndyCar docket is Sunday's Honda Indy 200 at the Mid- Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. But the future of IndyCar racing begins Monday at Mid- Ohio, under double-secret lockdown to everyone including race teams, media and sponsors.
This will be the first of six tests for the new Dallara Chassis by several different race teams using one of the three engines: Honda, Chevrolet or Lotus.
Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon and the Bryan Herta race team will do the Mid-Ohio test as the future of IndyCar racing officially hits the track.
“Our goals are pretty simple . . . we want to see the reliability of the car,” Herta said this week from his office in California. “We want to improve the performance of the car and we want to give all our partners time for development, so when a l l t h e teams get their cars, it’s a trackproven, readyto- run vehicle.
“It will be interesting for IndyCar, too, because i t ’ s a l l theoretical right now, but they’re going to have to make sure that the rules they have already set up are appropriate for the car.
“This car is going to be faster, lighter and safer. It’s a lot different than what we have on the track right now.”
Mid-Ohio will be the first shakedown of the new machine, which could still have some modifications to style and performance pending what the series of tests on road courses and ovals reveal.
But this transition is more than just on the track. It effectively clears every garage of its buildup of parts and apparatus from most of the last decade that allowed teams to compete on a level plane, all using the same equipment. While the Dallara chassis will be the same for all, three engines and a variety of aerodynamic packages coming next year will make for a whole new playing field for all.
For race teams such as Dreyer & Reinboldt, co-owned by Lakewood’s Robbie Buhl, this marks a step into both the competitive and financial unknown.
“The big challenge for us, we have this new car, that costs X amount, well, we don’t have any parts on the shelf for it,” Buhl began. “So we have to spend to build up some inventory, times two. And that’s to start. Right now, we don’t know what the life of a part is going to be, unlike now where we have years of data. So it’s definitely going to be a challenge.”
At the same time, the unknown is part of what has so many looking forward to 2012. Going into Sunday’s Honda Indy 200, the series championship is pretty much decided, and the top five in the standings are pretty much locked in. The suspense in the series is what’s happening behind closed doors.
“It is an absolutely exciting time right now with this new car,” Buhl said. “We’re pretty vested to make sure we’re part of this next era.” In a recent release, Will Phillips, IndyCar’s vice president for technology, said everything is on target for a solid Mid-Ohio test session.
“I continue to be extremely impressed with what I see. If it can deliver what it looks like it can, it will be fantastic and exciting,” he said. Phillips said the session will be a shakedown of the chassis that has been mated to a Honda 2.2-liter V-6. Five other two-day sessions on both road courses and ovals are scheduled before the engine manufacturers— Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus — end the on-track testing in early October.
“It’s really a systems check of everything, but we’ll slowly get the car up to speed and take it from there,” Phillips said. “If on day one there are no issues, then day two, you start pushing a bit harder. . . . We need to make sure the parts from all aspects of the car are achieving their goals so we’ve got aero targets and straight-line speed targets that we’re looking to see.”
After the testing, teams can expect to get their hands on the new Dallaras, and from there, getting the car race-ready for each individual driver will begin.
“We’re excited the car is going to get out and turn some lap time,” Tom Wurtz, team manager for Kalkhoven- Vasser, said recently. “Once all the teams know and declare what engine manufacturers they will use, then it will all start to unfold. You’re going to throw away the old playbook and start fresh again. You have to look at the whole program: parts, testing, suspension and so on.
It will be a new day on the race track
“We’re starting over, and I don’t think that’s something any of these teams have done for quite a while. Us, Newman-Haas, we’ve got a little fresher experience with converting [to a new car, after the ChampCar merger in 2008]. But some of the other teams haven’t done anything like this in seven or eight years.”
Dreyer & Reinboldt comes under that heading, and Buhl is keenly aware of the challenges ahead.
“We’d really like to be a two-car team,” Buhl said. “We’ll have to see if that is viable starting out. The past two years, for example, we have had enough inventory built up since 2003, 2004 with cars and parts that we could put four cars into the field at Indianapolis [and two for the series]. Until we know the exact availability for everything, I’m not sure if an effort like that will be possible at Indy next year.
“We’ll have 27 cars at Mid-Ohio this weekend. Next year it might be 20 and [a 33-car field] at Indy is going to be a tough deal. That’s just one unknown when you go into a transition year.”
And that is just one of the issues to be resolved. The other is who gets what in terms of powerplants. “It’s going to be interesting here the next 30 days, as [teams] make their commitments to engine manufacturers,” Buhl said. “The deadline for that is the end of August. Manufacturers are picking teams, not the other way around. It’s up to them, we don’t control that. That’s an interesting dynamic, too.
“I get the sense from Honda and Chevy, they want to be around 10 cars each, which l guess leaves another six to 10 for Lotus. Now is that eight [for Honda and Chevy] or is that 12? Which could be the difference between fields under 20 or well over 20. We’ll see.”
“The playing field is pretty level right now,” Buhl said. “At a super speedway, Ganassi and Penske probably got it figured out a bit over many of us. But at Toronto, the field is covered by 1.2 seconds. It wasn’t that long ago, at a race like Toronto, 1.2 seconds probably covered the first 10 or 12. We’re talking 26 cars now.
“These things are rock solid. Everybody is pretty much finishing races; you don’t have gearbox problems, brake problems, engine problems, all of which often come when there is a transition.”
“But it is definitely time for a change. Time for new cars.”

Thursday, August 4, 2011

6 ways to make sure your car gets stolen

6 ways to make sure your car gets stolen

A car is stolen somewhere in the United States every 40 seconds, according to the FBI, but yours doesn't have to be among the hundreds of thousands that go missing each year.

Most vehicles are taken because the owners are careless or much too trusting. If you want to avoid losing your set of wheels, start "thinking like a bad guy," advises crime-prevention consultant Art Adkins.

Thinking like a thief means looking for crimes of opportunity, explains Adkins, a police lieutenant in Gainesville, Fla. Before you walk away from your parked car, ask yourself:
Is your car an attractive theft target where it's parked?
How easy have you made it for someone to break in?
Have you bothered to use an anti-theft device?

Law enforcement agencies and car insurance companies try to educate consumers about the best ways to keep their vehicles safe.

"The crime triangle works on three things," says Adkins. "One point is the suspect, one is the victim and one is opportunity. Opportunity is what we have to eliminate."

No one method is foolproof, but the more layers of security you create, the greater the chance that a car thief simply will move on to an easier target, says Michelle Staton, executive director of the Pennsylvania Auto Theft Prevention Authority. If you prefer to live dangerously, here are six things guaranteed to put your car at high risk of being stolen.

1. Leave your car doors unlocked

This may sound like a no-brainer, but many auto thefts happen when people forget to lock their doors. A locked door is the first line of defense.

"About 50 percent of cars stolen are left unlocked and sometimes have the keys in the ignition," says Staton.

Most car thieves won't bother breaking into a locked car when there are so many unlocked autos to choose from, says Frank Scafidi, spokesperson for the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

2. Park your car in dark, deserted areas

When it comes to choosing a safe place to park, trust your instincts, Adkins says. Most of us know that dark, isolated spots are more likely to attract car thieves. However, when you're late for a movie and all the best parking places are taken, it's easy to ignore the voice within. Adkins urges you to go with your gut reaction.

"If you think it is in a bad location, more than likely it is," he says.

3. Don't use anti-theft devices

The more barriers you create to theft, the safer your car will be. Although they are low-tech, old-fashioned and relatively cheap, steering wheel locks remain an effective deterrent.

"For a passive thief, a Club can make them go on to the next vehicle," explains Carole Walker, executive director of the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association in Colorado.

Some people prefer audible alarms that draw attention to vehicles that are being tampered with. Smart keys with computer chips come standard in some new cars. Another good anti-theft device is an ignition kill switch that prevents thieves from starting your motor.

It may sound like closing the barn door after the horses have escaped, but auto-tracking devices are available that can help law enforcement officials find stolen cars using satellite and cell tower technology. Also, anti-theft systems often bring discounts that lower your auto insurance quotes .

4. Drop your guard when you get home

Many people take precautions against car theft while traveling, but become complacent when they return to the familiarity of their own neighborhoods. That's a big mistake, says Sgt. John Delaney, a spokesperson for the Springfield, Mass., Police Department.

"A lot of people have the misconception that if it is parked in their driveway it is safe," he says. "They leave the doors open, windows down, keys in the car. It is an open invitation for someone to jump in the car and get going."

Always lock your car and use anti-theft devices, even when parked at home. If you have a garage, use it and keep it locked.

5. Assume that your old beater is safe from theft

No matter how old and beat up your car is, you can never completely rule out the possibility of theft.

"Many times [old cars] are easier to break into," says Walker says. "Many times these models are stolen for parts, because they are easy to sell on the stolen parts market."

Staton says parts from a dismantled car may sell for much more than the car could command if sold intact.

In some cases, criminals don't care about the value of the car they're stealing. They simply need temporary transportation.

6. Leave your motor running

When the weather is hot, you may be tempted to leave your vehicle running to keep the air conditioning powered while you dash into a bank or convenience store.

In such cases, you may end up paying a big price for trying to keep cool. It only takes seconds for an observant thief to jump inside your unattended car. In cold weather, thieves also target cars that have been left running in driveways to warm up.

Your valuables are a neon sign

After you've taken steps to avoid auto theft, make sure you've done nothing to encourage someone to burglarize your vehicle. Adkins says many people foolishly leave money, GPS devices and packages from high-end retail stores visible in their cars. For a thief, that's an invitation that's hard to resist.

"Those are like neon signs," warns Adkins. "When you walk into a store, you are looking for a sale. That is how the bad guys shop. They are looking for visual cues."

Take the time to put valuables out of sight in your car's trunk, he advises. If you have a minivan or SUV that lacks a secure trunk, cover valuable items with a blanket.

Insuring against auto theft
When you shop for car insurance rates , remember that you need to buy comprehensive auto insurance in order to be covered in case your vehicle is stolen, vandalized, burned or damaged by weather. Check out the most stolen cars in 2010 .

Your home insurance covers the loss if your possessions are stolen from your car.storyid=88916#ixzz1U5GotFly

But in both cases the claim payment will be reduced by the amount of your deductible.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

American Customers Still Paying For Bells and Whistles

American Customers Still Paying For Bells and Whistles: Transaction Prices Rise in July
By Justin Stoltzfus

Along with all of the other information that’s coming from major auto analyst firm TrueCar, one of the major revelations for the beginning of August is that, although many more families are doing without bigger and more expensive vehicles, the transaction prices for many modern cars and other rides are actually going up, indicating that more than a few buyers are still looking for vehicles jam-packed with new and exciting features. Specifically, a TrueCar report from the beginning of this month shows transaction prices rising year-over-year for auto makers Chrysler, Ford, Honda and Hyundai. Models for GM, Nissan and Toyota showed a slight decline in transaction prices overall.

This revelation would seem to show that in a time when personal budgets are leaner, consumers are still willing to spend on all the bells and whistles that the range of auto makers are offering in today’s twenty-first century market. In many vehicles, new proprietary tech options are major sellers, whether it’s the SYNC system from Ford or company navigation and audiovisual dashboard items from other makers. Bluetooth and similar technologies also raise the final price for a car sale. On the safety side, some of the newest and most expensive features include things like electronic stability control, blind spot monitoring, collision sensing, rollover sensors, and parallel parking assistance. Some of these items will actually bring accident risks down, but it’s always necessary for buyers to think about how these extras will affect their bottom line.

Another issue that TrueCar deals with is the changing rates of incentive spending that have an effect on buyers. As of the beginning of this month, it seems that incentive spending for all auto makers is slightly up from June, but down in year-over-year comparisons. According to TrueCar’s charts, the biggest current incentive spenders are Nissan with an 8.9% increase, and Honda with a 7.6% increase. This kind of information is useful to buyers who are about to visit a lot, and who are looking for the best combination of rebates and incentives and financing deals to make their purchases less costly over time. For those who are trying to buy more features with less income, it’s even more necessary to take advantage of local deals and special offers from manufacturers in order to control what you pay for your next car.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Aston Martin Defending Independence as Technology Ages

Aston Martin Defending Independence as Technology Ages

Aston Martin, the British luxury car brand, wants to defend its independence by squeezing profits out of aging technology.

The British manufacturer, whose best seller is the $113,400 Vantage coupe, plans to develop additional models off an eight- year-old platform. The approach reflects the limits on Aston Martin, which can't tap development resources of a big parent like Volkswagen AG's Lamborghini and Fiat SpA's Ferrari.

"The models are starting to have a slight whiff of Sunday dinner being used in sandwiches later in the week," said Andrew Jackson, an analyst at research firm Datamonitor in London. "It leaves the impression of a company stretching itself as far as it can. In the industry that they operate in, with their competitors, they really need to be cutting edge."

Aston Martin, sold by Ford Motor Co. to a group of private investors including Kuwait's Investment Dar Co. in 2007, is outgunned in the luxury-car segment. Daimler AG, the parent of Mercedes-Benz, plans to spend about 5 billion euros ($7.1 billion) this year on research and development. That's more than eight times the Gaydon, England-based company's revenue of 509 million pounds ($830 million) for the 12 months ended March 31.

Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, which owns the Rolls-Royce marque, is building a factory to make lightweight carbon fibers for a line of electric-powered vehicles, as it adapts to demand for cleaner cars. It's also developing front-wheel drive BMW models and expanding the Mini brand with a coupe and roadster.

Rapid Change

"The next 10 years will see more change in the auto industry than the past 100," as the industry adopts new technologies, Ian Robertson, the Munich-based automaker's sales chief, said at an event in Frankfurt last week.

Independence can be risky for small carmakers. Saab, the Swedish brand sold by General Motors Co. in February 2010, was forced to halt production in April because of a cash shortage. The company is seeking to raise fresh financing and agree on payment and delivery terms with suppliers in a bid to restart manufacturing later this month.

Large carmakers can help niche manufacturers stay competitive by spreading development costs across brands and models. Fiat owns Maserati and Alfa Romeo as well as Ferrari. VW is merging with Porsche SE to add the maker of the 911 to its upscale brands. The Lamborghini Gallardo shares the same platform with the R8 from VW's Audi unit, while the Bentley Continental Flying Spur and GT models are based on the same underpinnings as the VW Phaeton.

'Same Design'

Aston Martin's lack of resources has led to a portfolio of similar models. Of its 15 current vehicles, all but the four- door Rapide and Cygnet city car are two-door coupes or roadsters. Aside from the 1 million-pound One-77 supercar and the Cygnet, which is derived from Toyota Motor Corp.'s iQ, all cars are based on the same aluminum platform that was first introduced in 2003 with the DB9.

"It's still that same old basic design," Ian McCallum, who designed the DB9 and is now design director at Tata Motors Ltd.'s Jaguar Land Rover unit, said in a July 27 interview. "Some will argue that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But you do get to a time when you have to move on."

Still, Aston Martin has made a virtue of necessity by using its so-called vertical-horizontal platform as the basis for more and more high-end models, including the 330,000-pound Zagato, which will start deliveries next year.

Higher Prices

"All the projects that we are doing have to make a profit," Chief Executive Officer Ulrich Bez, 66, told journalists at the company's Gaydon headquarters. "We can't afford a project that is just a marketing tool."

The strategy has pushed up the average price of Aston Martin cars 49 percent to 104,000 pounds last year from 70,000 pounds in 2007, the company said at the July 6 briefing.

By recycling technology and using engines from Ford, Aston Martin can keep costs and development times down. That's secured Aston Martin a profit margin of about 20 percent, nearly double Mercedes's 10.7 percent return on sales in the second quarter.

"We don't make the mistake of applying manufacturing techniques that are perfectly sensible for 500,000-a-year models to small-volume cars," Chief Financial Officer Hanno Kirner said. Aston Martin sold 4,299 cars in the year through March 31.

That focus has given Aston Martin breathing room after Investment Dar, which owns half of the British manufacturer, missed a $100 million Islamic bond payment in May 2009. The closely held company in June raised 304 million pounds through the sale of high-yield bonds.

With the new financing, the company has sufficient resources to finance its development, which includes expansion in China. An initial public offering will be explored when the company sees the "right window," Bez said.

--Editors: Chris Reiter, Sara Marley

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ad-wrapped rental cars launch in Atlanta

Ad-wrapped rental cars launch in Atlanta

by Carla Caldwell

Motorists who don’t mind driving a rolling advertisement can get a discount when renting from Atlanta Budget Rent a Car. The Boca Raton, Fla.-based rental car company has launched advertisement-wrapped cars in Atlanta, hoping to cash in on leisure travelers willing to promote a product in exchange for discounts, reports the Washington Post.

Budget is working with Sheets Brand Energy Strips on the project brokered by Wrap Media Group, the newspaper reported. Budget chose to launch the campaign in Atlanta, because the market is one of the company’s larger hubs.

The discount offered depends on where the car will travel. Rental car customers are asked their destination before the amount is tallied. One woman told the newspaper her family rented an ad-wrapped SUV for a four-day trip to Florida for close to $88, when it typically would have cost closer to $300.

Friday, July 29, 2011

What's the best way to finance a new vehicle in Florida?

What's the best way to finance a new vehicle in Florida?

By Steven Cole Smith

Give credit where credit is due: Financing for Florida auto customers is a lot easier than it was less than three years ago.

"We have ample credit available," says Marc Cannon, senior vice-president of the Fort Lauderdale-basedAutoNation, which owns the country's largest auto dealership network. "And it continues to improve."

That wasn't the case in 2008 and 2009. Financing institutions, stung by loans made to customers who defaulted, tightened restrictions that limited who qualified. This was a major reason why new vehicle sales tanked during this period, and used vehicle sales rose -- people couldn't finance a new car, and often had to buy a used vehicle either with cash or loans from a "buy here, pay here" used car dealership.How bad was it? Claes Bell, banking and auto reporter for the North Palm Beach-based, an online clearinghouse for consumer financial information, cites a survey taken in December of 2008, the height of the financial crisis, that says the approval rate for new auto loans was just 46.3 percent.

"Now, it's way up," Bell says, to 74.5 percent, citing the same study from June of this year. And while new vehicle sales haven't been as strong in 2011 as predicted early this year -- due mostly to the still-struggling economy, and the shortage of vehicles caused by theearthquakes and tsunami in Japan -- neither manufacturers nor dealers are complaining.

Interest rates have also come down. Bell points to the most recent survey by the U.S. Federal Reserve that pegs the average interest rate from a commercial bank on a 48-month new car loan at 5.81 percent in May of 2011. The national average for 2007, for example, was 7.7 percent.

Bell says there are three central sources for new-vehicle credit: Banks, credit unions and the auto manufacturers themselves. Which is best? It can vary with every purchase. For that reason, Bell suggests buyers shop for credit before they shop for a car or truck.

"That allows you to walk into the dealership in a stronger position," he says.

Dealers may offer financing through the manufacturer -- typically at rates discounted by a contribution from the manufacturer, to help its dealers move cars -- or from banks and credit unions that the particular store has a relationship with.

There is no right answer as to where to get credit, except for one: The lender that costs you the least. has some online tools that help you survey loan rates, and figure up payment schedules. For instance, the site surveys banks and credit unions in geographical areas, and provides specific data as well as averages. The average interest rate for a 60-month new-car loan in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, for instance, is 5.2 percent. In Tampa, it's 5.065 percent. In Tallahassee, 5.432 percent.

Dealers invariably have multiple outlets for credit, including area banks and their own manufacturer's financing arm. Chad Rogers, general manager of Classic Mazda and Holler Hyundai in Orlando, says that when the manufacturers are offering attractive low-interest deals, the majority of the dealership financing goes there, "especially the customers with the top-tier credit ratings."

Otherwise, his dealerships maintain close ties to several banks, and even credit unions are becoming more aggressive in seeking business outside their captive credit union membership. "We've had several credit unions reach out to us and ask to be considered as a finance source," Rogers says.

Indeed, credit unions should not be overlooked:'s Bell cites figures from a Datatrac survey from last March that said the average U.S. interest rate on a 60-month new car loan from credit unions was 4.12 percent, compared to 5.46 percent from conventional banks.

Not all attractive manufacturer-backed finance deals are on slow-selling, unpopular models, or models that are about to undergo a major design change in the next model year. This time of the season, low-rate financing might be offered to simply clear the 2011 inventory to make room for soon-to-arrive 2012s.

Example: The two best-selling cars in the U.S. in 2010, the Toyota Camry and -- finishing the year slightly behind the Camry -- the Honda Accord, both currently have low- or no-interest financing. The 2011 Accord, for example, has a 0.9 percent race for 24 to 36-month loans, and 1.9 percent for 37 to 60-month loans. The Camry has 0 percent financing for 36, 48 or 60-month loans, and may include $500 "bonus cash back."

There is, as with all these deals, fine print involved. Sometimes you must purchase a vehicle that is on the dealer's lot, and take delivery by a certain date to qualify. Often these deals "cannot be combined with other offers," as Toyota says, meaning that if there is, say, a separate rebate offered, you can't take that and the financing.

And part of the fine print from the Honda Accord offer is also typical: "Not all buyers may qualify. Higher rates apply for buyers with lower credit ratings." In other words, if your credit rating isn't very good, you may still qualify for financing, but not at the bargain advertised rate.

For vehicle that offer either a hefty rebate or low-interest financing, you'll have to do your homework to see which suits you best. The 2011 Chevrolet Malibu, for instance, offers 0 percent interest for a 60-month loan, or a $2,500 rebate. The 2011 Ford Fusion is available with 0 to 1.9 percent financing depending on the loan length, or a $2,500 rebate.

All these deals can vary geographically. Check out the manufacturer's website -- typically the manufacturer's name, like, or -- and they will ask for your zip code before the site will list special financing or rebates in your area. Sometimes, you can also find incentives that aren't publicized. Ford, for instance, has a $500 rebate for police officers who are members of one of two national police associations, and $500 for active or recently-serving military personnel.

The bottom line: Shop for credit just as you do a new car or truck.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hackers Can Unlock Cars Via Text Messages

Hackers Can Unlock Cars Via Text Messages
Rue Liu

So we’ve all seen those commercials lately where the integration of new technology with automobiles lets a person unlock and start his or her spiffy new BMW remotely with a cellphone app. It’s convenient indeed and may also make it more convenient for hackers to hijack your car. According to two security researchers, hackers can do just that via what’s called “war texting.”

Don Bailey and Mathew Solnik, employed by iSEC Partners, have found a way to unlock vehicles using remote control and telemetry systems such as the BMW Assist, GM OnStar, Ford Sync, and Hyundai Blue Link. With off-the-shelf parts and a couple hours of tinkering, the duo was able to reverse engineer the communication protocol and pose as the GSM or CDMA mobile network servers via “war texting” or the act of finding open wireless networks.

The scariest part of this vulnerability is that it may apply to many other systems that also use telephony as a control network, including traffic control systems, 3G security cameras, home automation systems, and SCADA systems. SCADA is employed in many industrial applications such as manufacturing, power generation, water treatment, as well as oil and gas pipelines management.

Bailey and Solnik will be presenting their findings at the Black Hat conference next week, but will not reveal the exact details of their attack until the affected manufacturers fix the problem. They also do not plan on disclosing which on-board systems they were able to hack.

Other security presentations expected at Black Hat include the recent claims of a vulnerability in laptop batteries, specifically those of Apple’s MacBook Pro and Air laptops, that could allow hackers to take control of laptop and even cause physical harm.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

California dreaming: LA imagines life without cars

California dreaming: LA imagines life without cars

By Michael Thurston

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles is famous for its addiction to cars -- whether cruising in their convertibles, or (more often) sitting in monster traffic jams on the freeway, the car is definitely king for Angelenos.
But a surprise public response to a "car-mageddon" warning this month has fueled questions over whether -- shock, horror -- LA motorists could wean themselves off of four wheels.
A new law bolstering cyclists' rights has also added to debate, in a state which enjoys year-round sunshine and spectacular scenery, but where smog haze regularly clouds views of the sparkling Pacific.
"You can suddenly hear people talking," said LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky after the closure of a key stretch of highway failed to produce the feared apocalyptic gridlock -- quite the contrary, the roads were eerily empty.
"You hear kids playing. People discovered something about themselves and Los Angeles auto culture that shocked them. Why can't we take some chunk of LA and shut it down to traffic on certain days or weekends, as they do in Italy?"
Before the closure of a 10-mile (16-kilometer) stretch of the 405 freeway at the northern end of the LA basin earlier this month, officials had blitzed the airwaves with warnings of "car-mageddon".
But in fact motorists who did venture out during the 53-hour closure found roads eerily empty, as Angelenos heeded the warnings in massive numbers -- producing what some called "carmaheaven."
The closure "demonstrated that Angelenos really can change their driving behavior if they're motivated to do so," said an opinion piece in the LA Times, noting that a similar thing happened during the 1984 Olympics in the city.
"It's not hard to get people out of their cars during extraordinary events; the tough thing is doing it on a daily basis," added the newspaper.
Critics say one reason that can't be done is LA' parlous public transport system: buses run even slower than cars, and the subway system is OK where it goes, but useless for most people simply due to the city's sprawl.

-- 'As natural as Botox' --

And walking has never been a real option, except for the shortest of trips, partly because in the summer it's too hot, sometimes for safety reasons, especially after dark.
One group who did take heart are cyclists -- who have long campaigned for more cycle paths, and who this week welcomed a new law passed this week by the the LA City Council to protect bicyclists from harassment by motorists.
The new law, which supporters say is tougher than anywhere else in the US, makes it a crime for drivers to threaten cyclists verbally or physically, and lets victims sue without waiting for the city to press criminal charges.
"It's a groundbreaking move," said Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, while City lawmaker Bill Rosendahl, who championed the plan, said: "It's about time cyclists have rights."
Paul Tullis, who writes a blog for the Huffington Post, said car-mageddon had provided a unique opportunity.
"How about seizing the opportunity, when the memory of a virtually car-free Los Angeles is still fresh, to enact weekend traffic restrictions to make the region infinitely more enjoyable on the weekends?" he said.
"The picture of a virtually car-free Los Angeles could inspire some big changes, and the benefits seem significant enough to be worth trying different fixes to overcome various obstacles," he added.
But while car-mageddon has triggered debate, skeptics note that it will take more than a marketing campaign to change decades of car culture in America's second biggest city.
"Visitors to LA often express astonishment that Angelenos can tolerate the traffic, but to us it's as natural as Botox," said the LA Times' editorial writer.
"There are other choices: carpooling, biking, scootering, walking. And it's no secret what cities and countries need to do to encourage people to choose them. In Europe and Asia, such incentives are commonplace, and they work.
"Will any of these ideas fly politically in car-crazy LA? Don't hold your breath," it added.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ship to carry 2,000 cars, cut CO2 emissions by 40%

Ship to carry 2,000 cars, cut CO2 emissions by 40%
by Tim Hornyak

Japanese shipping giant Kawasaki Kisen is building a next-generation car carrier that will run on liquefied natural gas (LNG) instead of fuel oil, cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent.

The carrier is set to be about 156 yards long, with a capacity of 5,000 tons, capable of carrying up to about 2,000 cars. Kawasaki Heavy Industries will supply the gas engines, and its nitrogen oxide emissions profile will be up to 90 percent lower than those of vessels using conventional diesel engines.

Kawasaki Kisen, whose K Line containers are a common sight in ports, made the plan in light of rising prices for fuel oil. It's apparently working on the design in conjunction with Norwegian experts who approve technology standards for ships.

As a cleaner transportation fuel, LNG is used in heavy trucks, buses, and ferries, but it's not common in cargo vessels. The carrier will start operating in 2015 or 2016 to service Europe, which is implementing tougher exhaust standards.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Borrower Nightmares: Soldiers battle car dealers over inflated prices, loan

Borrower Nightmares: Soldiers battle car dealers over inflated prices, loan

Lawsuits accuse some dealers near U.S. bases of aggressive tactics that drain young recruits' bank accounts, affect mission readiness
By Michael Hudson

Lori Mendoza saw an advertisement last year from South Colorado Springs Nissan, a dealership that promotes itself as "Proudly Serving our Military" and promises bargains for men and women in uniform.

That sounded good to Mendoza, an active-duty soldier stationed at nearby Fort Carson (Colo.) Army Base. With help from her mother, who co-signed on the deal, she traded in an older BMW and drove away with a 2010 Nissan Rogue.

Then things took a wrong turn, according to alawsuit Mendoza filed in federal court in Colorado.

The dealership, she claimed, boosted the cost of the transaction from the agreed-upon $27,000 to $35,000, admitting it had made a “mistake” only after she caught the discrepancy. Then, the suit said, it gave her a runaround about nailing down the financing she said it had guaranteed on the deal.

When Mendoza came back to the dealership to return the Rogue and cancel the transaction, another snafu emerged: The dealership claimed, the suit said, that it had already auctioned away the BMW trade-in. Later, when she demanded copies of her sales contractand the federal “truth-in-lending” disclosures, the suit alleged, a dealership staffer refused, saying he didn’t want Mendoza using the documents as “ammo” against the dealership.

Wyn Taylor, an attorney for South Colorado Springs Nissan, said the BMW was eventually returned to Mendoza and her mother. Steve Kern, the dealership’s general manager since February, told iWatch News that “we work very hard to help our men and women in the military.”

In a written statement about the case, Taylor asserts the dealership acted properly, and that documents signed by Mendoza showed the total cost of the deal was always in the $35,000 range. The statement also says the financing was never guaranteed and Mendoza knew, even though she was allowed to start driving Rogue, that the deal couldn’t be consummated until the loan was approved.

For Mendoza, the issue is now settled — she and dealership resolved the lawsuit on undisclosed terms. Many other men and women in uniform, though, are still vexed by car financing deals gone bad.

Consumer advocates and military officials claim that some car dealers target soldiers, sailors, Marines and other service members for predatory financing and other tricks that drain their bank accounts and, in some instances, interfere with their ability to do their duties.

“I think it happens every day of a week,” saidMichael Archer, a retired Marine officer who serves as director of legal assistance for Marine bases in the Carolinas and Georgia. “I think it’s at least as likely as not that when a troop buys a car, he’s overpaying either on the price of the car or the price of the loan.”

When it comes to dealers that fly American flags and post signs that say “Welcome Military,” consumer advocates often joke that “the bigger the flag, the worse their practices are,” said Rosemary Shahan, president ofConsumers for Auto Reliability and Safety , a California-based advocacy group.

The practices at some dealers are enough of a concern that the Federal Trade Commission has invited Archer, Shahan and other experts to speak at a public hearing Aug. 2 in San Antonio to focus on the problems servicemen and women face when they try to buy cars on credit. Industry officials deny that car dealers routinely take advantage of members of the armed forces.

“I don’t see military being targeted. I don’t see that,” said Larry Laskowski, executive director of the Independent Automobile Dealers Association of California , which represents some 450 used-car dealers in a state that is home to more than two dozen military bases.

In instances where there are bad apples that “don’t adhere to a code of ethics,” Laskowski said, there are laws on the books that are designed to protect service members and other consumers.

The National Automobile Dealers Association didn’t address questions from iWatch Newsabout military members who purchase cars on credit, but it told the FTC “any abuses which may have occurred” in auto financing “are isolated and most assuredly are not prevalent.”

Easy targets

Next month’s FTC hearing is another sign of the increasing attention on consumer problems faced by members of the U.S. military.

In recent months, three of the nation’s largest financial institutions — Bank of America Corp., Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase & Co. — committed nearly $80 million among them to settle claims they improperly foreclosed on military personnel or overcharged them on their mortgages.

The new federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which officially kicked off operations on Thursday, has signaled it will make protecting military consumers a priority.

On July 6, the CFPB and the military’s top uniformed lawyers released a “ joint statement of principles ” aimed at providing better protections for service members when they borrow money or buy things on credit. Officials said they’ve set up procedures to work together on addressing consumer complaints and improving financial literacy for servicemen and women.

“Service members and their families sacrifice a great deal for our country and they deserve advocates who will use every available resource to protect them from financial threats,” said Holly Petraeus, the consumer bureau’s assistant director for the Office of Servicemember Affairs and the wife of Army general and newly confirmed Central Intelligence Agency chief David Petraeus.

"Through this partnership and our other efforts,” she said, “we will work to make sure that the days of military families being easy targets for predatory practices and unscrupulous lenders are a thing of the past.”

When it comes to policing auto loans, the CFPB is handicapped because of a loophole written into last year’s Dodd-Frank financial reform law after intense lobbying by car dealers: The bureau has authority over auto lenders, but it generally won’t have authority over car dealers, which play a crucial role in the auto financing process. Dealers often prepare loan applications and work hand-in-hand with lenders in hammering out loan terms.

As part of a legislative compromise, the law increased the FTC’s rulemaking authority over car dealers. An FTC spokesman told iWatch Newsthat the agency has “has done extensive military outreach to provide service members with consumer education about finances and avoiding fraud.” The FTC is also working to coordinate its efforts with the CFPB, including talks about how about sharing access to complaints, the spokesman said.

Battlefield promotion

For their part, military brass have spent much time in recent years documenting the problems caused by lenders and car dealers that cater to men and women in uniform. When soldiers get ensnared in bad deals, military officials say, the fallout can affect their “mission readiness” and, if their credit is ruined, put their security clearances at risk.

“It absolutely affects their ability to perform their mission,” Archer, the Marine regional legal director, said. “When you have a lance corporal who literally has his finger on the trigger, he needs to be focused entirely on the front post site and where he’s shooting, rather on extraneous personal concerns about whether somebody is going to take away his car or his house.”

Some car dealers like to locate near military bases because many of the troops stationed there “are of an age when they’re probably going to get their first car, and they’re all concentrated in one place,” Archer said.

A November 2009 memorandum by Archer sketched out several examples of the sales tactics and credit practices that car dealers used to fleece young Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and at other installations in the Southeast.

One bold car salesman trespassed onto Camp Lejeune, “conducting an impromptu class to our most junior Marines on how car dealers will rip them off. Yet the salesman describes how he can ‘hook them up’ with a reputable dealer to avoid scams.” At least one “class,” Archer wrote, “is held when the salesman sneaks into the auditorium during a break between legitimate orientation classes.”

In another instance, the memo said, a dealership tricked a Marine lance corporal into buying an overpriced car by promising him free round-trip airfare to visit his parents in a distant time zone for Thanksgiving. It turned out the airfare wasn’t free — it had been financed into the loan contract at 13 percent interest.

Across the country in Southern California, three Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton are pressing lawsuits claiming that a nearby car dealer, Certified Auto Sales, falsified information on their credit applications.

In one of the three lawsuits in San Diego County Circuit Court, Areon Simon claims the dealership gave him an imaginary promotion on his credit application — listing him as a corporal when he was in fact a private.

Another Marine, Logan Turk, claims Certified Auto Sales reported on the credit application that he was buying a 2006 Mitsubishi even though he was really buying a 1997 Camaro.

A third Marine, Mark Splawn II, alleges that the dealer socked him with what amounted to a hidden finance charge, increasing the price of his 2006 Mazda because he had a poor credit history. It also promised him that the Mazda was in good condition, his suit says, but he soon discovered the vehicle had serious defects, including a leaking battery and “worn and unsafe” tires and front brakes.

Christopher Ramey , an attorney for Certified Auto, denied that the dealership engaged in fraud or did anything improper.

In Simon’s case, for example, Ramey said the dealership didn’t submit any information about Simon’s rank or employment to the lender — that was Simon’s responsibility, the lawyer said. “Mr. Simon signed and delivered the application to the lender,” Ramey told iWatch News.

He added that the dealership made it clear to Splawn, Turk and Simon that the vehicles were being sold “as is,” and that they were welcome to take them elsewhere if they wanted to have an independent mechanic check them out. He said a judge ruled in the dealership’s favor in November in a similar case of another Marine who claimed that he’d been sold a defective vehicle, finding that the “as is” label meant just that — “as is.”

Certified Auto’s owner, Joseph Romero, “is a small-town dealer,” Ramey said. “He’s probably one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. It’s unfortunate that Mr. Romero has been victimized” by consumer attorneys seeking to generate fees for themselves.

The three Marines’ lawyer, Hallen Rosner , says his clients’ stories are examples of how poorly service members often fare when they buy cars on credit.

Rosner, who frequently represents service members in credit disputes, says many are young and aren’t “future-oriented” — which is understandable, he said, since they’re often waiting to be transferred to overseas war zones. Car dealers like them as customers, he said, because they’re “bankable” — they have steady incomes and ready access to loans from military credit unions.

“They’re a vulnerable group, like any other group that gets exploited,” Rosner said. The Navy and Marine Corps maintain lists of off-limits car dealerships that sailors and Marines aren’t supposed to set foot on, he said, but “it takes an awful lot to be put on that banned list.”

Friday, July 22, 2011

Toyota System Can Sense Pedestrians, Avoid Accidents

Toyota System Can Sense Pedestrians, Avoid Accidents
By Martyn Williams

Toyota has developed a safety system that can automatically stop a car in the moments before a collision with a pedestrian.

The system, which will begin appearing in Toyota cars in the near future, is built on existing pre-collision detection technology that is already fitted in some Toyota cars and those of competitors. Those systems are designed to guard against collisions with large objects, such as stopped vehicles or walls, and don't do a good job when it comes to people.
Toyota's new system, which it says is a world's first, uses a millimeter wave radar and stereo camera to constantly monitor what's in front of the vehicle.
In a demonstration on Thursday at the company's Higashi Fuji Technical Center in Japan reporters were given the chance to drive a car fitted with the technology towards a mannequin in the roadway. (See video of the demonstration on YouTube.)
Toyota asked drivers to keep the car at a constant 40 kilometers per hour (25 miles per hour) and head straight for the mock pedestrian.
An audible warning first sounded when the system picked up the pedestrian and judged that a collision was possible. Moments later, when no change in the vehicle's speed or course was detected, the system prepared to stop the car.
Then, with the car approaching the mannequin fast, the brakes automatically applied and the seatbelts tightened slightly. With a slight screech the car came to an emergency stop a couple of meters from the mannequin.
The technology is one of several the center is working on that Toyota hopes will make driving safer.
In another building at the sprawling complex located at the foot of Mount Fuji, Toyota has one of the world's most advanced driving simulators.
Here a car is attached to a platform raised off the ground, the whole thing under a plastic dome and wired to computers that monitor every aspect of the way the car is being driven.
On the inside of the dome a 360-degree computer-generated image of a road and town make for a driving experience that's much more realistic than any video game. Fake road noise and computer-generated vibrations add to the feeling of being in a real car but that's not what makes it most special.
The entire platform the simulator sits on can move up to 20 meters from side to side and 35 meters from back to front. This means drivers even experience the forces they would when driving a real car.
Toyota uses the facility to simulate a variety of conditions and situations to a variety of drivers to gather data on how different people react when behind the wheel.
Around 1.2 million people are killed in road accidents every year, according to the World Health Organization. Road fatalities are expected to rise by two-thirds over the next two decades as the number of cars on the world's roads increases.
Technologies like the pedestrian detection system are meant to make driving safer and advance Toyota towards its goal of zero fatalities on the road -- an ambitious goal for sure.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Man rams cars at dealership to show his displeasure

Man rams cars at dealership to show his displeasure


PORTSMOUTH — Believing he had been sold a lemon, a Massachusetts man turned his unwanted vehicle into a consumer complaint form Wednesday and rammed the cars parked at a city car dealer, police said.

David Cross, 41, of 21 North St., Salisbury, Mass., calmly walked up to Portsmouth police shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday and told them about his antics, said police Sgt. Chris Roth.

"He wasn't happy with the service he got there so he figured he would take it out on them," Roth said. 

Police said Cross damaged several vehicles, including a Mustang, Dodge Caravan, Mercedes and Infinity, at Portsmouth Used Car Superstore, 2219 Lafayette Road.

"He did some pretty good damage," Roth said. "He had his license plates in his hand. He took them off his lemon and walked across the street with them."

Cross had purchased a 2000 Dodge Caravan from the dealership, Roth said.

He was charged with criminal mischief and released on bail after being booked.