Friday, October 31, 2014

Don't let a New Jersey auto dealer get between you and an all-electric Tesla

At Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, a garage that accommodates hundreds of vehicles has only one spot reserved for recharging all-electric cars and plug-in hybrids.


As a potential buyer of a Tesla Model S, I hope New Jersey auto dealers don't succeed in their campaign to prevent the California-based company from selling directly to the public.

Those dealers and state bureaucrats have already forced Tesla to stop selling the revolutionary all-electric car from showrooms in Paramus and Short Hills.

The company immediately initiated online sales in New Jersey, and buyers pick up their cars in Springfield.

The Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid has an electric-only range of 11 miles.


On March 16, I wrote that Governor Christie and state bureaucrats are no fans of Tesla.

And that's OK with editors of The Record, a major daily in Woodland Park that has published a number of mistakes in covering the controversy.

They haven't bothered to take an editorial position or get comment from the GOP bully.

Ad revenue is king

That's no surprise, given all the advertising revenue the daily receives from members of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, a powerful lobbying group.

The editors -- and the wealthy Borg publishing family -- are not about to bite the hand that feeds them. That's why it's called the "journalism business." 

Really, car dealers are hated by just about everyone. Their reputation is even lower than some of the reporters and editors at The Record.

Why pad price?

The Tesla Model S is expensive enough. Why make it pricier by allowing dealers to mark them up and sell them as deceptively as they do ordinary cars?

No editorial on Tesla appears in the paper, but two letters to the editor support the electric-car maker.

One, from the New Jersey Sierra Club, accuses the Christie administration of siding "with 'Big Oil' and the Koch Brothers over innovation and clean technology," and hurting the New Jersey economy and environment.

A letter from David Brown of Wyckoff says "New Jersey's regulations on car sales seem archaic, especially in today's direct sales environment."

"This is one more example why New Jersey ranked 32nd in Forbes magazine's 2013 Best States for Business survey," Brown writes.

The photo caption with the letters says the Model S shown costs $91,000, but a story on Saturday reported "Tesla cars sell for about $60,000 each," and a previous story ran two photos of a discontinued Tesla roadster.

Monday, October 27, 2014

You need three people -- not a hybrid or electric car -- to get this toll discount

The driver of a Toyota Prius hybrid, below, still hasn't gotten the word about the Port Authority Green Pass toll discounts available to drivers of green cars. His E-ZPass, above, is white, the kind available to all drivers.

The sticker on the left says, "You just got passed by a hybrid." I don't know the meaning of the sticker on the right.


The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey operates in mysterious ways.

The bistate agency offers off-peak toll discounts to drivers of hybrid and all-electric cars as long as they obtain a special green-colored E-ZPass, called a Green Pass.

The New York State E-ZPass agency does the same, but doesn't honor Green Passes obtained from New Jersey.

A bigger break

But the Port Authority offers an even bigger toll discount valid 24/7 at all agency crossings -- not just during the restrictive off-peak hours -- and you don't need a green car to get it.

What you do need is a private E-ZPass account and a "carpool" -- defined as three occupants.

If you have a driver and passenger in the front seats, 
a dummy or dead body in the back might do.

And there are hoops to jump through:

You have to enroll your E-ZPass first, then come to a complete stop in a staffed cash/E-ZPass lane so that the toll collector can verify the number of occupants in the vehicle.

I usually say, "Carpool discount," and receive an acknowledgement.

The carpool toll is only $5 -- an E-ZPass discount of $4 or $6 all day long, weekdays and weekends -- but it's not available to commercial vehicles or fleets.

The Green Pass off-peak toll is $5.50.

Both plans are largely unpublicized.

For E-ZPass holders, the toll during peak hours is $11 (6 a.m.-10 a.m., 4 p.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday and Sundays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.).

At other times, the off-peak E-ZPass toll is $9. The cash toll at all times is $13.

All Port Authority tolls are set to go up again this December and in December 2015, if a court challenge is unsuccessful.

E-ZPass in many states

The Port Authority Web site's E-ZPass page lists many states that issue the same or similar tags for paying tolls, including Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, Maryland, Illinois, Main and New Hampshire.

If you own a hybrid or green car in those states, check with your agency to see if you qualify for special toll discounts.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

What the media always forget to tell you about hybrid and electric cars

A 17-inch touchscreen in the dashboard of the Tesla Model S simplifies the all-electric car's operation, unlike the complicated controls of gas-guzzling German luxury sedans costing twice as much.

In late March, the Model S shrugged off the rain in Tenafly, where consumers were offered test drives.


When Toyota unveiled the second-generation Prius in the United States, the company emphasized how the gas-electric hybrid would help clear the air.

"Low emissions. High hopes" was the simple message on the front of the 2004 catalog available at dealers.

But the media have basically ignored the environmental benefit of hybrids and electric cars, this despite all the recent attention to climate change.

Bad press for the Prius

The Prius has gotten a surprising amount of bad press or no press.

In 2006, Automobile magazine claimed writers who drove a Prius across the country "discovered mileage plummeted on the interstate."

That directly contradicted the experience of Prius owners, who get better mileage on the highway than they do on local trips, suggesting the auto writers were driving way over the speed limit and wasting gas.

The magazine didn't even mention how often the Prius' gasoline engine turns off -- when the car is stopped at lights and when the driver is coasting or braking -- reducing air pollution.

Our automotive past and future in the parking lot of 24 Hour Fitness in Paramus, above and below. GM's enormously wasteful Yukon DENALI, above, should be renamed DENIAL, in view of its contribution to climate change.

The all-electric Tesla Model S is a leader as demand for green cars grows.

When mileage plummets

According to, aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) wastes gas.

"It can lower your mileage by 33% at highway speeds and by 5% around town," according to the official U.S. government source for fuel economy information.

Gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 50 mph, according to the Web site, adding:

"You can assume each 5 mph you drive above 50 mph is like paying an additional $0.22 per gallon for gas."

The site also offers tips for drivers of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.

Click on: Use the 'economy' mode

Ease on down the road

One way to get the best mileage out of your hybrid or plug-in is to use cruise control whenever you can.

For the past few years, I have found setting my speed at or a little above the limit saves gas and has a calming affect, especially on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway, two notorious playgrounds for speeding and aggressive drivers.

I have even used it on local streets with speed limits of 30 mph and 25 mph to avoid falling into a speed trap and getting a ticket.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

10-plus years, 4 Priuses and a love-hate relationship with two Toyota dealers

One of the minor quality problems I've encountered in my 2010 Toyota Prius was adhesive oozing from between the two parts of the stylish shift knob, above. My Toyota dealer replaced the knob, but other quality problems with the car were never resolved.


I've owned new and used Toyotas for nearly 30 years, but in the last decade, I've been loyal to the Prius, a sophisticated gas-electric hybrid from Japan's No. 1 automaker.

I remember my initial visit to the service department at Parkway Toyota in Englewood Cliffs for my first Prius, a 2004 in one of my favorite colors, burgundy.

After a routine service, I was driving to my apartment in neighboring Englewood when I started smelling oil.

I parked the car, lifted the hood and found that the oil cap on the gasoline engine was missing, and oil had splattered all over the engine compartment.

I also found one of mechanic's tools in the engine compartment. 

I drove back to the dealer, where the service department topped up the oil, screwed on the cap and cleaned up the mess.

I bought my next three Priuses from another dealer.

Air-pressure challenge

The Prius' full-hybrid system was a technological tour de force when it was introduced to the United States in 2000, and the second-generation four-door hatchback (2004-09) had a unique profile.

But other differences were more subtle, such as the recommended inflation pressure of 35 psi for the front tires and 33 psi for the rears, as displayed on a plate affixed to the Prius door jamb.

The Prius is equipped with noisy, low-rolling-resistance tires to maximize gas mileage, and for whatever reason, Toyota specifies pressures that depart from the standard 32 psi in all four tires of other models. 

The 35 psi front/33 psi rear pressures were also recommended in two 2007 Priuses I bought and the 2010 Prius I drive now.

But Toyota service advisers haven't seemed to notice, and they have routinely returned my Prius with 32 psi in all four tires, as Hackensack Toyota did this month after my annual synthetic oil and filter change.

Nagging quality problems

I've experiences minor quality problems in my 2010 Prius, including flaws in the driver-side leather door panel and leather rear-seat cushion.

The door panel was replaced twice for free after the leather wrinkled, and the rear bench cushion was changed because of seam and stitching defects.

The second new door panel also wrinkled, but by then, my 3-year warranty had expired.

Oozing adhesive led to replacement of the shift knob for the continuously variable transmission.

But despite repeated visits, Hackensack Toyota's service department was unable or unwilling to silence an annoying rattle from the right side of the dashboard and a groaning or creaking noise from the cargo cover supports in the hatch area. 

Toyota was unable to fix an annoying creaking noise from the hatch area of my 2010 Prius despite several tries. The noise is loudest when the outside temperature falls to about 40 degrees or below.

Recalls and service campaigns

We owned two 2007 Priuses, and I traded one of them in to buy the 2010 I drive now. My wife still drives the other 2007.

All three Priuses have been affected by service campaigns and recalls to replace various items, including headlights, a water pump and a brake booster assembly.

One of our Priuses also was involved in a class-action settlement over unintended acceleration, but I didn't receive any money.

Suffice it to say, Toyota quality isn't what it used to be.

But the major systems in the cars, including the hybrid power train and battery pack, have operated flawlessly.

Limited navigation system

All of our Priuses have had Toyota's optional navigation system, but the one in the 2010 model was annoying, often sending me in circles to my destination.

In March of this year, I paid $169 for an updated  2013 navigation DVD that came in a case marked "North America" that showed a map of the U.S. and Canada.

But in June, when we drove to the International Jazz Festival in Montreal, we discovered our navigation system ended at the Canadian border.

Expensive cabin filter

The Prius is equipped with a cabin air filter that requires cleaning or replacement periodically.

In April 2012, Hackensack Toyota charged me $49.95 to install the filter, including the $24 price of the part.

In December 2013, the price went up to $59.95.

This month, I refused to pay the dealer $26 to install a $24 part, and decided to try to install it myself.

I bought the Toyota cabin air filter from the dealer's parts department.

Three weeks later, I still haven't found the time to install it.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Nissan provides free lunch, but remains mum on next-generation Leaf

Derrick Hatami, Nissan's vice president for U.S. sales, answered questions today in Manhattan from members of the International Motor Press Association.


Nissan officials boast their Leaf is the best-selling all-electric car in the United States, but won't say when we'll see a new version with a longer range.

The homely Leaf, introduced to the U.S. in December 2010, seems poised for a makeover, especially in view of its nail-biting range of well under 100 miles on a full charge.

Derrick Hatami, Nissan's vice president for sales, said today the 4-door hatchback is the "No. 1 selling electric vehicle in the United States."

Speaking to the International Motor Press Association in Manhattan, Hatami said the No. 2 car company in Japan is the leader in electric vehicles, selling 3,000 Leafs a month here.

But Hatami wouldn't comment when asked when a second-generation Leaf would debut.

English: 2011 Nissan Leaf electric car at the ...
2011 Nissan Leaf at the Washington Auto Show. (Wikipedia)

Nissan spokesman Steven Oldham emphasized the improvement in how far the Leaf can go on a full charge, with the 2015 model claiming a range of 84 miles.

Nissan's Leaf Web site says the average American drives less than 33 miles a day.

The International Motor Press Association is the country's oldest organization of automotive journalists and public relations professionals.

Nissan paid for today's reception and lunch at the 3 West Club in Manhattan.

Monday, October 13, 2014

At summit of automobile writers, hybrid and all-electric cars were scarce

The spectacular BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sounds and drives like a sports car, but scissor doors and a high sill make it difficult to get into and out of. And it lists for nearly twice the price of an all-electric Tesla Model S with a 60 kWh battery and an EPA range of 208 miles. The BMW i8 was available for test drives last month at a meeting of automobile writers in Monticello, N.Y.

Another new car from BMW, the i3, is the polar opposite of the hybrid sports car. The i3 is a stylish, all-electric four-door sedan with a range of 70 to 110 miles per charge. It proved so popular with writers and other participants, I not only didn't get to drive it; I didn't get a photo.


Where are the hybrids? 

I scanned the rows of cars lined up last month in a parking lot at the Monticello Motor Club, a 4.1-mile racing circuit in New York State's Catskill Mountains, looking for green cars.

Where is Tesla, maker of the world's most advanced all-electric production car?

There weren't any Teslas to drive on beautiful, two lane country roads, and hybrids were scarce. 

At an annual East Coast summit meeting of automobile writers last month, the emphasis seemed to be on raw, naked horsepower from the internal -- or infernal --combustion engine.

Despite a legacy of unsafe and inefficient cars -- and polluted air that kills tens of thousands of people each year -- the major automakers remain firmly invested in the conventional.

Toyota, which introduced the Prius to the U.S. in 2000, now sells hybrid versions of many models, including those offered by its Lexus luxury division, and a plug-in version of the Prius.

But its all-electric RAV4 has a Tesla powertrain, and is available only in California.

Toyota has more green cars than any other major manufacturer.

BMW shows two i models

BMW made two new green cars available for test drives on public roads, the i8 plug-in hybrid sports car and the more practical i3 all-electric sedan.

It's hard to believe the two cars come from the same manufacturer.

The i3 has a base price of $41,350, and a range of up to 110 miles when fully charged.

Another version of the i3, with a "range extender" (a gasoline generator with 1.9-gallon tank), goes up to 185 miles on a full charge, BMW says. 

Think of it as a security blanket.

The base MSRP is $45,200.

The 707-horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat was at the top of the heap in terms of raw horsepower. Another reborn muscle car, the Chevy Camaro, also was represented, but no Ford Mustangs were on hand to drive.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saving green at the tollbooth is a big plus for drivers of hybrid and electric cars

Tree trimmed in shape of car in rural landscape
Tree trimmed in the shape of a car. (Getty Images)


Owners of hybrid and all-electric cars know how much they save on gasoline. They're also proud of their role in helping make the air cleaner.

But in New Jersey, New York and other states with toll roads and crossings, green cars also get a break on those dreaded levies. 

The Port Authority, which gouges drivers at the Hudson River crossings, issues a Green Pass, a special E-ZPass that gives discounts to drivers of nine green models, including the Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf.

Those drivers also get toll discounts on one of the most expensive toll roads in the nation, the New Jersey Turnpike (30%), as well as the Garden State Parkway (10%).

But the discounts are given grudgingly -- what the Port Authority euphemistically calls "off peak" -- and many owners aren't aware of the unpublicized Green Pass program.

Cars with a Green Pass pay only $5.50 during off-peak hours, compared to the regular $9 E-ZPass toll.

Still, off-peak hours are restrictive, both on weekdays and weekends: 

On weekdays, off-peak discounts are available between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. On Saturday and Sundays, off-peak deals are in play only before 11 a.m. and after 9 p.m.

New York State has a similar program, Clean Pass.

New Jersey E-ZPass officials look to New York to determine which cars are eligible for the toll discounts:

UPDATE (September 12, 2014):

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has recently added the following vehicle models to the eligibility list:
  • 2015 Cadillac ELR (Only models with "L" or "M" in the 5th position of the VIN)
  • 2015 Chevrolet Spark
  • 2015 Chevrolet Volt (Only models with "C" or "D" in the 5th position of the VIN)
  • 2015 Fiat 500e
  • 2015 Ford Fusion Energi
  • 2015 Kia Soul EV
  • 2015 Nissan Leaf
  • 2015 Toyota Prius
  • 2015 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid

No cross-honoring

Now, it turns out, the Green Pass I have from New Jersey is not honored in New York.

This year and last, I drove to Montreal for the International Jazz Festival in late June, but when I got my E-ZPass statement, I didn't see any discounted tolls on the New York State Thruway.

Today, New York E-ZPass said to get the Green Pass discounts, I would have to open a separate account and pay a $1-a-month administrative fee, like I already do in New Jersey.

The discount in New York is 10% off of tolls, and I'm not sure what I would save on the trip to Montreal would come close to the $12-a-year administrative fees (10/22/14).

Eligibility list

Click on the link below for a list of all eligible vehicles under New York's and New Jersey's Green Pass Discount Plans:

Let me tell you which cars 'suck' -- and none of them is 'green'

Just when you thought dinosaurs were extinct.


Have you seen a hulking Nissan Armada, an enormous Chevy Suburban or a 5,000-pound Range Rover?

Probably, if you drive the New Jersey Turnpike or Garden State Parkway or any other highway in America.

Just look into your rear-view mirror and you'll find one of these enormously wasteful vehicles just feet from your rear bumper as the driver brakes hard to avoid punting you off the road.

Despite these big SUVs' thirst for fossil fuel and the hundreds of dollars owners fork over at the pump every week, the ungainly vehicles usually are driven way above the speed limit, tailgating and cutting off drivers of slower cars.

The Armada comes from the same Japanese automaker that produces the all-electric Leaf -- a sure sign Nissan doesn't have its corporate act together on climate change.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across another blog called GAS2, subtitled "GREEN CARS THAT DON'T SUCK."

Really? How can a hybrid, electric or other green car suck? Because you can't burn rubber in one?

The GAS2 site covers racing, and one "sponsored" article reports on a modified Tesla Model S, including a press release that is printed verbatim.

Now, that really sucks. 

After a decade of driving Priuses, I'm ready for an affordable all-electric car

I'm raring to go all-electric.


I'm ready for an affordable all-electric car, but the world's auto industry isn't ready for me.

I've owned four Toyota Priuses since 2004, and now drive a red 2010 model with less than 41,000 miles on the odometer.

But 15 years after Honda introduced the first hybrid car to the United States, followed a year later by the Toyota Prius, neither Japanese auto company produces an all-electric model with a range of 200 miles.

The 2015 Nissan Leaf, with an MSRP of $29,010 for a basic model, has an EPA range of only 84 miles -- a nail-biter, judging from my recollection of renting one for the day from Hertz in San Francisco, where customers often ran out of juice and the rental agency had to send out a flat-bed truck to retrieve the vehicle. 

That Hertz agency stopped offering the Leaf in 2012.

Here is what I said about the 2012 Leaf in a post on my food blog, Do You Really Know What You're Eating?

I rented the all-electric Nissan Leaf sedan from Hertz for one day, and when I picked it up in a downtown San Francisco garage, the instruments said I had a 98-mile range.
But in the end, I got only 39 miles out of the car, and that required charging the batteries for 3 hours and 40 minutes in my cousin's garage. The charge added "12 miles" to the car's range.
"To avoid draining the batteries, I didn't use the air conditioner or play the radio. Of course, the car is quiet, but its optimistic range added an anxiety level akin to running out of gasoline and being stranded far from a refill.

The Leaf's range hasn't changed much since the car was introduced in the U.S. in December 2010 -- this from the second-biggest car company in Japan.

The 2014 Toyota RAV4 EV, which has a Tesla powertrain, has an MSRP of $50,700 and a range of 100 miles, but is available only in California.

Toyota has expanded the Prius line, adding smaller and larger models,  and a plug-in hybrid, which has an all-electric range of only 11 miles. That's not a typo: just 11 miles.

I've been planning to buy a Tesla Model S with a 60 kWh battery and an advertised range of 208 miles for $69,900 without options. But I don't consider that "affordable."

With 302 hp, the car is said to do 0-60 mph in 5.9 seconds. Nice to know, but I'm part of the "cruise-control" generation, and usually drive at or a little above the speed limit.