Saturday, October 22, 2016

As the leaves turned in the Catskills, greenery and green cars were hard to find

On a visit to Monticello, N.Y., an open top, manual transmission, deserted two-lane roads and a gorgeous fall day are an unbeatable combination.


MONTICELLO, N.Y. -- Quiet has returned to the two-lane roads that wind past clusters of homes framed by fall colors.

This week saw the annual invasion of the International Motor Press Association, whose members were unleashed at the wheels of performance and super cars with incredibly loud mufflers.

IMPA, the country's oldest organization of automotive journalists and public relations professionals, set up camp at the Monticello Motor Club, a 4.1-mile race circuit and playground for the wealthy nestled in the Catskill Mountains.

Many sponsors

Sponsors of the so-called Test Days included Detroit and foreign automakers, manufacturers of tires and automobile sound equipment, PR Newswire and the private club where the event was held.

Previous Test Days took place at Pocono Raceway and Lime Rock Park.

On Wednesday, writers and publicists had access to a parking lot filled with some of the fastest cars in the world, many of which could be driven on the track.

Others were meant to be driven only on quiet public roads in Monticello and nearby villages, set amidst lakes and wooded hills. 

On Tuesday, the first day of the event, all driving was restricted to public roads except for IMPA members who signed up for drives or rides with instructors on the challenging race circuit.

I did hot laps in a Fiat 500 Abarth and a Lexus GS sedan with 467 horsepower, but actually enjoyed driving several other cars over nearly deserted public roads that were a breath of fresh air compared to the congestion of northern New Jersey.

Among them were the FIAT 124 Spider, Infiniti Q60, Jaguar F-Type, a luxury sports car with loud snap, crackle and pop exhausts; and Volvo S90 AWD Inscription, a comfortable sedan that is the biggest Volvo I have ever seen.

Being confined to public roads didn't lessen the excitement for some IMPA members.

For example, a writer for the Chicago Tribune syndicate who gave me a ride in a McLaren GT shouted, "That's 90 [mph]," as he paddle shifted up through the gears on Route 42 toward Montcello's economically depressed downtown.

One of the few green cars at the event was the highly anticipated Acura NSX, an all-wheel-drive supercar bristling with 573 horsepower from a twin-turbo V-6 and three electric motors, above and below.
A pro racecar driver at the wheel of the Acura NSX took me on the fastest lap I have ever experienced at the Monticello Motor Club.

Green cars

Sadly, there were no purely electric cars at the event.

Chevy didn't bring the Bolt, the first $40,000 EV with more than 200 miles of range, even though the four-door hatchback is expected to go on sale at the end of the year.

And as usual, Nissan had IMPA members lining up to drive the fearsome GT-R, but disappointed me and others by not supplying an updated all-electric Leaf with a longer range. 

Typically, most of the writers and publicists who attend Test Days are gear heads, speed freaks and lead foots who are wined and dined by the automakers, and loaned new models for a weekend or a week.

They willingly engage in a conspiracy of silence about climate change, the 53,000 deaths every year from auto emissions, and the environmental benefits of hybrids and EVs.

I heard one IMPA member boast of driving a Fiat 500 Abarth at 107 mph on a Nevada highway, complaining he was the only one of 10 writers in a caravan of speeding Fiats pulled over by the police. 
Toyota Mirai, Prius

Toyota brought the Mirai, powered by electricity from a hydrogen fuel cell; as well as the Prius Prime, a plug-in gas-electric hybrid that has an EV range of 25 miles.

I got behind the wheel of both, and found the Mirai far quieter and more refined than the pre-production model I drove in Manhattan last April at the New York Auto Show.

The Prius Prime only went a few all-electric miles before the gasoline engine kicked in, because its handlers from Event Solutions International (ESI) forgot to plug it in overnight.

Both the Mirai and Prius Prime approached the quiet of a Tesla Model S.

Two more photos of the mid-engine Acura NSX, above and below. 

Toyota's Prius Prime, a gas-electric hybrid, wasn't plugged in overnight, and yielded only a few miles in all-electric mode on Wednesday, above and below.

Toyota Mirai is a car in search of hydrogen fueling stations, above and below.

Hydrogen gas reacts with oxygen in the air and produces electricity to power the vehicle.

This McLaren GT, which cost more than $200,000, didn't match the excitement of the Acura NSX.
The Alfa-Romeo 4C Spider with paddle shifters was a hoot to drive on the racetrack.

A Ford Fusion gas-electric hybrid.

A driver returning to the pits at Monticello Motor Club.

Tuesday's lunch at the Monticello Motor Club included veggie burgers, coleslaw, and potato salad. I didn't attend that night's banquet at Honor's Haven Resort & Spa in Ellenville, N.Y., but was told no fish was available for IMPA members who don't eat meat.
Eggplant Rollatini, Potato-Crusted Cod and Caesar Salad were on Wednesday's lunch menu at MMC.

I had dinner on Tuesday night at Crust Italian Eatery in Rock Hill, N.Y., a restaurant next to my hotel. Steamed Clams were $10. A glass of red wine was $6.

I also had a Caprese Salad with Fig Balsamic Glaze ($12), but the only off note were the roasted tomatoes, which had been refrigerated and were much too cold.

Crust Italian Eatery bakes 24-inch pizzas. Bottle of wine are $20.
On the way home, I stopped to charge my Tesla Model S 60 on Route 300 in Newburgh, N.Y., where six free Superchargers were available in the parking lot of a strip mall, above and below.

Customers were dining outdoors at Cosimo's on Union Ristorante & Bar, which serves wood-fired pizzas. I had a yogurt next door at Hoopla Frozen Yogurt (51 cents per ounce).

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Chevrolet Bolt -- GM's first pure EV -- is looking a lot like a $40,000-plus econobox

The 2017 Chevrolet Volt is expected to go on sale late this year, but will be available only in limited numbers, according to the automaker.


The good news for consumers is that the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV will have a starting MSRP of $37,495.

But such options as front collision braking, forward pedestrian alert and OnStar automatic crash response is expected to push that past $40,000.

In an email this week, Chevrolet delivered the bad news the Bolt will be available only in limited numbers this year.

So, greedy Chevrolet dealers likely will sell each Bolt they can get their hands on for list, then pile on "added dealer profit," making the Bolt a lot less "affordable" than the company claims.

There will be two versions of the Bolt -- GM's first purely electric production vehicle -- LT and Premier, but Chevrolet hasn't released the starting MSRP for the Premier trim level.

The Chevrolet Bolt will have a 10.2-inch touch screen.

238-mile range

The Bolt also is the first $40,000 EV to achieve an EPA-estimated range of 238 miles on a full charge.

But Chevrolet is calling the Bolt an urban vehicle, and owners will have to pay to recharge the car when they are on long trips.

At home, using a 240-volt outlet, a full charge takes 9.5 hours, according to Chevrolet.

Chevrolet's 240-volt charging unit requires the services of an electrician, and the price tag for installation is expected to be about $2,000.

The four-door hatchback certainly is stylish, but it also reminds you of any number of econoboxes.

This is no Tesla Model 3, which is expected to go into production in late 2017.

Monday, September 12, 2016

If you pay to park in a municipal garage and get free charging, is it a good deal?

In downtown Englewood, a municipal parking garage offers five free PSE&G charging stations. Today, a Tesla Model S 90D, two Smart EVs, and a Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid hooked up to four of them.

The Volt driver thought nothing of running the charge cable across the hood of the new car and possibly scratching it.


I've owned a Tesla Model S since April 2015, and have never had to pay to charge the car on trips away from northern New Jersey.

I either charge the car at my home, where solar panels generate the electricity I use, or take advantage of Tesla's extensive network of free Superchargers or destination chargers at hotels and resorts.

So, what do you do when you have a non-Tesla EV or a plug-in hybrid without free charging?

Today, I saw the owners of four cars using free charging stations at the municipal garage in Englewood, where the first two hours of parking cost $1.50.

It's likely that no matter what the rate of charge, owners of EVs and plug-in hybrids are getting a break on the cost of electricity, even after the parking fee is figured in.  

The garage uses pay stations that accept paper currency, coins and credit cards.

But the machine won't make change of, say, a $5 bill, as one woman I encountered today found out too late.

Charging your car is free, but not parking in the garage. The rates are 50 cents for the first half hour and $1 for each hour after that. I don't know how fast these chargers are.

My last electric bill said 1 kWh hour of electricity cost a total of 17 cents to 18 cents, including delivery to my home. You can travel on electricity more cheaply than on gasoline.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Nissan hedging its bets with new Leaf EV, new Armada and other gas-guzzling trucks

The homely Nissan Leaf EV is available with a bigger battery in the 2016 model year and added range -- up to 107 miles on a full charge. You can still get a Leaf that goes a maximum of 84 miles before you need more juice.


Jose Munoz, chairman of Nissan North America, delivered good news and bad news to consumers worried about climate change and the 53,000 deaths blamed on auto emissions every year.

Speaking to members of the International Motor Press Association in Manhattan, Munoz said Nissan is "close" to launching a new-generation all-electric Leaf with a redesigned body.

There was no indication whether the second-generation Leaf will have more range than the 107 miles available with a 30kWh battery in the 2016 model.

Leaf lags behind Tesla

The homely Leaf, introduced in December 2010, once led electric-vehicle sales in the United States, but it has changed little and has been eclipsed by Tesla, which cost more than twice as much.

Meanwhile, Munoz -- also executive vice president of Nissan Motor Co., Japan's No. 2 automaker -- had plenty of bad news for environmentalists.

To take advantage of the low price of gasoline, Nissan is launching the "Year of Trucks."

He promised a new Armada and Pathfinder, and a "brand new" Rogue, a crossover.

And if the price of gas rises again, Munoz said, Nissan will market its herd of gas-guzzlers as the most efficient on the market.

In answer to a question from the audience, Munoz delivered more bad news regarding Manhattan's traffic congestion and pollution.

The automaker has no plans to add a gas-electric hybrid version of the Nissan NV200, the so-called Taxi of Tomorrow.

So, the Nissan NV200 instantly becomes the Taxi of Yesterday.

The roomy Nissan NV200 taxi.

Autonomous driving

The Nissan executive did say the company is rolling out autonomous driving features, starting this year, to prevent accidents.

By 2020, he said, Nissan will sell cars that will be fully autonomous in a city environment.

Of course, if Nissan introduces a fully autonomous NV200 taxi, there's no telling how many drivers will be thrown onto the unemployment lines.

The free lunch is alive and well in Manhattan, thanks to Nissan North America, one of the automotive companies that play host at meetings of the International Motor Press Association, described as the nation's oldest organization of automotive journalists and public relations professionals.

I enjoyed a plate full of salad, roasted vegetables, smoked salmon and tomatoes with bite-size mozzarella balls.

I also was able to get two crisp-skin fillets of branzino instead of the same fish prepared in a butter-cream sauce for the buffet. I drank red wine and had fresh fruit for dessert.

Monday, September 5, 2016

315-mile range of new Tesla leaves plans of German luxury carmakers in shambles

In this image from, Porsche's Mission E all-electric concept with suicide rear doors bears a strong family resemblance to the German automaker's sports cars. 


When the Porsche Mission E -- the first all-electric car from the German automaker -- appears at the end of the decade, it will have less range than a Tesla you can buy today.

The story is the same at Audi and Mercedes-Benz, two more German carmakers who are loudly talking up their plans for purely electric luxury vehicles.

Tesla says its Model S P100D has a range of 315 miles on a full charge and accelerates from 0-60 in 2.5 seconds.


Tesla Motors has unveiled the first all-electric car with a 100kWh battery, which is available in the Model S four-door hatchback and the seven-seat Model X SUV.

The California-built Model S P100D has an MSRP of $134,500, including a $1,200 destination charge, before a $7,500 federal tax credit.

In New Jersey, buyers don't have to pay the 7% sales tax, a savings of $9,415.

You get performance all-wheel drive, 315 miles of range, a top speed of 155 mph, and 0-60 mph in 2.5 seconds.

Ludicrous Speed Upgrade and Smart Air Suspension are included, according to the company website.


You can't escape those annoying Mercedes-Benz TV commercials for the cramped CLA and the AMG performance line of gas-guzzling sedans and sports cars.

What's especially galling is that the Mercedes B-Class, the automaker's lone electric car, uses a Tesla power train and gets only 87 miles of range on a full charge.

"The best or nothing" -- a motto you hear repeated in Mercedes commercials -- turns out to be "nothing" when it comes to EVs that can challenge Tesla.

Monday, August 22, 2016

With no humans or batteries, self-driving cars will hurt both economy,environment

No. That isn't the biggest, roof-mounted boom box you've ever seen. That's an autonomous Ford Fusion with a human back-up driver Uber will use to pick up passengers in Pittsburgh. Once the self-driving car is perfected, Uber likely will fire tens of thousands of drivers. This photo is from The Associated Press.


GM, Ford, Volvo, Uber, Google and other companies are investing billions of dollars in the race to develop self-driving cars.

But I've seen little discussion of whether they will be gasoline powered, hybrids or all-electric.

Only an all-electric self-driving car makes sense, given climate change and the 53,000 deaths each year from auto emissions.

And when Uber perfects a self-driving car, you can bet the unemployment lines will swell with tens of thousands of drivers let go by the anti-labor, ride-hailing monstrosity.

Only Google has said its self-driving cars will be "mainly electric."

BMW, Nissan lag

The media have been spending so much time reporting on the development of autonomous cars they've neglected to ask BMW and Nissan when they are going to market EVs with a range of at least 200 miles.

Only California-based Tesla Motors has achieved the magic combination of a minimum of 200 miles of range and free juice at the automaker's nationwide network of free Superchargers.

That's why Tesla outsells other EVs, even those that cost half the price.

The Model S and Model X SUV already have Autopilot and Autosteer for highway cruising, and the luxury four-door hatchbacks also park themselves and back out of your garage.

Chevrolet is expected to start selling the Bolt late this year with an MSRP of $37,500 and a range of 200 miles on a full charge, but has refused to say whether free charging will be available to owners on road trips.

And the Bolt will take a full 9 hours to charge at home with a 240-volt outlet, compared to less than 7 hours for a Tesla.

The Maybach 6 all-electric concept from Mercedes-Benz will have a range of only 200 miles on a full charge and an MSRP I'm guessing will easily top $200,000, if and when it is produced in four to five years.  

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Automakers who can't compete with Tesla hone the art of blowing smoke at buyers

The BMW i8 has been called "jaw dropping," but if you're a woman, don't try getting in or out of the plug-in hybrid in a skirt. MSRP starts at $147,700.


The Olympics in Rio continue and so do all of those idiotic car ads.

As BMW struggles to build a car that can match the speed or 200-mile-plus range of a Tesla Model S, the German automaker tries to deceive consumers into settling for second-best gas-electric hybrids.

The i8 with "scissor doors" is the most advanced BMW ever built, the company's TV ad boasts.

Of course, it's also one of the noisiest. 

A car that uses gasoline isn't advanced at all. You'll still be poisoning the environment with almost every mile you drive.

You also can buy gas-electric hybrid sedans and SUVs from BMW. Big deal.

You want fancy-schmancy doors? Tesla's Model X has them and zero emissions, too. BMW, Audi, Mercedes and Porsche can't say that.

Tesla lowers prices

Meanwhile, Tesla now offers the purely electric Model S with a range of 210 miles from a 60kWh battery, starting at $66,000, a lower price than before.

The Model X SUV, which has falcon rear doors, starts at $74,000 with the 60kWh battery, a range of 200 miles and all-wheel drive.

You can buy his and her Teslas for the price of a single BMW i8.

And if you buy a Tesla, charging your car on the road is free for life, something no other automaker offers.