Episode 887 – Blindsided by Justice, EU Fuel Economy Tomfoolery, Cup Holder Mount

May 10th, 2012 at 12:00pm

Runtime: 7:22

The woman that took Honda to small-claims court over the fuel economy of her Civic Hybrid is in the news again. The difference between official EU fuel-economy numbers and what drivers get in the real world is growing. A company called Bracketron has developed a clever way of mounting smartphones and tablets in a vehicle. All that and more, plus John McElroy test drives the Mercedes-Benz CL-550.

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Hello and welcome to Autoline Daily for May 10th. I’m John McElroy and here’s the news.

Well, this didn’t take long. Remember the woman who sued Honda over the disappointing fuel economy of her Civic Hybrid? She won nearly $10,000 in small-claims court, but an appeals judge just overturned that ruling. He says most drivers DO get the fuel economy posted on the window sticker. Some 1,700 other hybrid owners have followed the woman’s lead. But I think that Honda finally put this story to bed by winning that appeal.

YOUR MILEAGE WILL VARY (subscription required)
Speaking of how your mileage may vary, it WILL VARY in Europe. The difference between official EU fuel-economy numbers and what drivers get in the real world is growing. Back in 2001 the delta was about 8 percent, but in 2010 it was a whopping 21 percent! The New European Driving Cycle is a precisely calibrated fuel-economy test, but some argue it’s too easy. Acceleration speeds and shift points do not match real-world driving, plus automakers know how to game the system to get better results. Another problem with the European system has to do with the vehicles tested. EPA ratings are based on the best-selling version of a vehicle. In Europe they only test the base model. Interestingly, it’s reported the United Nations is working on a new global fuel mileage test. But In my experience, the current EPA ratings system in the U.S. is VERY accurate.

Here’s a clever way to put your empty cup holder to use, although the anti-distracted driving crowd will hit the roof. A company called Bracketron developed a mount to hold a smartphone or tablet to use for navigation. Some phones and tablets are too large to mount on the windshield with a suction cup. Some states have even outlawed them, which is why the company created what it calls the Universal Tablet Cup Holder Mount. It can fit into just about any size cup holder and costs about $50.

FORD DROPS DOWN UNDER (subscription required)
Two different car companies in Australia and two different business results. Ford is struggling. Net profit dropped by over $290 million, and revenues fell by half a billion dollars. The company blames payouts to laid-off workers, slumping demand of the Falcon and the flooding in Thailand, which has limited sales of the new Ranger pickup.



But GM Holden posted a net profit of close to $90 million despite a revenue drop of 100 million dollars. Holden also sold 5 percent fewer cars in Australia, but that was offset by exports which shot up 50 percent. Looks like Ford Australia needs to export more.

AUTOMOTIVE QUALITY: THEN (subscription required)
There’s a big story in the Wall Street Journal today about how Chrysler is quickly improving its quality. My favorite quality fiasco story was at the launch of the original minivan back in 1983. Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca drove up on a stage in a minivan at the assembly plant in Windsor, Canada. Inside the van with him were the vice presidents of manufacturing, engineering and quality, as well as some top UAW officials and the plant manager. Iacocca and another exec got out of the front seats, but the other officials in back could not get out because the sliding door wouldn’t open . . . with hundreds of dignitaries, line workers and the media looking on. Finally someone was able to open it from the outside and some very embarrassed executives sheepishly got onto the stage, only to sing the praises of the company’s quality.

That was then. These days it’s hard to buy a car with poor quality. In fact, the quality gap from best to worst is very minor. In the latest Vehicle Dependability Survey from J.D. Power the difference between the best brand, Lexus, and the worst brand, Chrysler, is one defect. The difference from best to average is less than half a defect per car per year. And while the industry should keep on improving quality, we need to remember how much progress has been made.

Coming up next a look at what has got to be one of the biggest coupes in the world, the Merdeces CL.


(This feature is only available in the video version of today’s program.)

You don’t see a lot of CLs out on the road. It is the lowest sales volume car Mercedes-Benz has in its line up. So far this year in the American market they’ve sold fewer than 300.

Don’t forget to join us for Autoline After Hours tonight. Our guest is Paul Ingrassia who’s written a book on what he says are the most important cars in the history of the automotive industry. That ought to generate some good arguments. So join me and the Autoextremist himself, Peter DeLorenzo for the best arguments in the industry.

And that wraps up today’s show, thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.

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26 Comments to “Episode 887 – Blindsided by Justice, EU Fuel Economy Tomfoolery, Cup Holder Mount”

  1. mack Says:

    As for inability to get out of the back of the minivan,was it not because of the child safety lock on the door and not a quality issue?

  2. pedro fernandez Says:

    Another Chrysler quality story from that era, I recall one of the auto mags was doing a comparo between the Viper and two other competitors at that time, and even though these cars were factory fresh, the Viper had a cooling system failure due to the high speed and high stress placed on it.

  3. Tony Gray Says:

    Have to work tonight so I will catch the AAH on the podcast. Hope I win one of the books!

  4. Bill-S Says:

    Since most of the US has now been forced to use gas with 10% ethanol, why doesn’t the EPA put the mileage ratings of new vehicles out using 10% ethanol on the new window stickers and thier ratings guide?

    I bet the outcry from the general public would really kill ethanol if they could see the difference between using pure gas and 10% ethanol right there on the official paperwork. So I’m sure politics will keep us from seeing the true ethanol based fuel economy even though we can hardly but real gas anywhere anymore.

    I can still get real ethanol free gas in a few stations in my area, for a prety good premium too since they know people will pay for it. But depending on which car of mine I use it in, I get 7% to 12% better fuel economy that using E-10 gas. And if that’s not bad enough, just wait until they try to force E-15 on everyone soon…

  5. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I have a first generation Chrysler minivan which has been very reliable. It has certainly had a sheltered life, 70K miles in 23 years, but the only thing that has gone wrong is that the cruise control quit working. The A/C went 19 years without a recharge. That is pretty good.

  6. Kit Gerhart Says:

    #4, Bill-S

    If your cars get 7-12% better fuel economy on straight gas than on E10, something is wrong with your cars, like the O2 sensor based mixture control is not working properly. The difference in energy/gallon between E10 and E0 is about 3%.

  7. Lex Says:

    Can not wait until the Chinese get a hold of the Universal Tablet Cup Holder Mount. They will flood the market with them for around $20 buck each.

    The Caravan and Voyager are iconic nameplates when mentioning minivans. I saw a Caravan with the “Crew” badge on the back of it. This one was black and reminded my on something you would transport prisoners to jail in. Extremely boring looking if you ask me. I drove a new 2012 Caravan down in New Orleans and found it to be very enjoyable. My only dislike was the position of the cup holders in the front driver and passenger doors. They would hit my leg when I closed the door.

    I hope Hyundai reintroduces the Veracruz as a Minivan with optional AWD. The current Kia Sedona is definely based upon very old minvan technology. This ia one product line Hyundai / Kia have not put no effort into. That is a shame. A minivan with the looks of the new Santa Fe would be awesome.

    Is it my imagination or did Acura simply take the previous version of the Honda CR-V and put the Odyssey’s 3.5 litre engine under the hood an rebadge it as the new RDX? Now that is a useful way to recycle old componenets in to a stunning new vehicle. The only problem is that the base model of the new RDX should start around $30K not the $35 currently listed. The pricing of the base RDX should begin where the top of the line CR-V ends.

  8. HtG Says:

    Vehicle Quality. Gone is my youth spent reading car magazine articles that spent many a column inch detailing how crap most cars were.

    ps Daaayum!, McElroy! You look good in that CL!

  9. Brett Says:

    Can anyone confirm the story I heard about how, back in the bad old days, the head guy at Chrysler hired a consultant to come in and do a detailed analysis of their warranty program and make suggestions because their warranty service was generally reviled by their customers?

    Apparently, the guy came back after several months and to him that they’d have better customer relationships with regard to warranty service if they actually just told the customer to go to Hell when they brought their car in for a warranty issue, compared to how they were presently treating them.

    I’d be curious to know if that’s a factual story. (more or less)

  10. aliisdad Says:

    I love the story about the minivan that the doors would not open on because it reminds me of the POS 2010 Caravan that we had for less than a year due to all the problems and poor Dodge/Chrysler response…To be honese, though, the door locks seemed ok…
    Anyway, it reminded me of a new Ford Thunderbird that we had quite a few years ago that had brake problems…I took it over to the dealer and the service guy took it for a drive with me in the passenger’s seat…When we got back to the dealer’s shop, my door would not open…I was stuck in the car for quite a while while they decided how to get it to open… I could have probably crawled over the console, so I guess I wasn’t really trapped, but it the experience came to mind after reading the story here at Autoline…
    Bottom Line: I will never take a chance on another car built by an American car company; I’ve been screwed by their quality too many times and cannot afford to give them my money for junk!! (Yes, I am very angry about the many times I’ve been duped by their statements of “we have changed and build competitive stuff, now”)

  11. C-Tech Says:

    John I bet this women will appeal the court ruling. You will have this soap opera to follow for the next year or two
    This cupholder thing actually looks like something I would buy!
    I agreed quality has very much inproved for the major manufacturers. Given that, when consumers are filling out surveys saying their car is “unreliable” because had to take it in for recall, or other item which did not affect safety or driveability, how do you “fix” that.
    The CL550 is a proper coupe. Are the low sales numbers due to demand or availibility?

  12. Bill-S Says:

    #6 – Kit

    I agree, the theoretical energy/gallon difference is about 3% between pure gas and E10.
    But that being true, most cars will do worse than a simple 3% drop in MPG going to E10, most cars see a 5%-10% drop in MPG. Computer controls in modern fuel injected engines can only make so much of a change. Engine timing and compression ratio also play into how a car runs on ethanol, not just the O2 sensor and spark plug firing cycle timing that the computer can control, and not all cars have fully controllable variable valve timing either.

    Then there is the E10 from the pump itself. Is the stuff coming out of the pump to you car really just 10%, or is it maybe 15% today based on how accurate the blend was mixed into the truck? How much water has the tank in the ground picked up? What is the octane of the ethanol gas now that is has started to get older and possibly separate and pick up water, which lowers the octane. So now you car knock sensors are pulling out more timing and killing power and fuel economy from you engine some more…

    People also tend to feel the lower power from the engine, so give the car more gas than they normally would without E10, so they burn even more fuel to get it to accelerate as it did before.

    In my case, we’re talking about fuel injected cars all in great shape, most with very low miles for their age too, and some have had their O2 sensors replaced with tune ups. In my case the engines are a 1986 Ford 5.0L HO engine with 300K mi (Mark VII LSC), a 1998 Ford 4.6L 32V with 71K mi (Mark VIII LSC), a 2003 GMC 6.0L with 42K mi (Yukon Denali), a 2003 Chevy 5.7L LS1 with 31K mi (Corvette), and a brand new 2012 Chevy Cruze with 1.4L Turbo with only 5K mi. All of them see worse than the 3% theoretical MPG difference, as I said before about 7% to 12% is the range they lose MPG using E10.

    My daily driver now is the ’03 Corvette. In about a 70% city/30% highway commute to work, I get 20.5 MPG on E10, and 22 MPG using pure gas. And it will get close to 30 MPG on the highway. I won’t complain, it does better than my ’86 LSC was getting me about 17 MPG on the same daily commute vs the 22 MPG. And for an ’86 car that people say is so old, outdated, and bad with fuel economy, it would still get 26.5 MPG on the highway.

  13. Kit Gerhart Says:

    My most recent experience in comparing E10 with E0 was inconclusive, given the variability I have from tank to tank anyway. I did checks with an ’06 Chevy Malibu Maxx with the 3.5. I did a couple tanks at a time when my driving was mostly moderate speed highway, where I got in the 30 mpg range. I should have seen about a 1 mpg difference, but I’m not sure I saw that.

    There is no place nearby that has E0 now, or I might try it in my Prius and MINI.

    Still, everyone from the car companies to the EPA say that the 3% is the difference you should see, but if you saw something different, I guess I can’t dispute it.

  14. pedro fernandez Says:

    I was in an internet argument with some dumbass who objected to my claiming that VW are behind in quality and he insists I don’t know what I’m talking about, I guess folks in the UK are impressed with VW compared to their own home grown crap that they consider it quality. Every tech I’ve met has always told me to avoid them used VW at all costs. Even worse than American brands.

  15. Bill-S Says:

    #13 – Kit,

    No worries or offense taken, just my personal exprience, other folks I know, and reading on other sites what a lot of other people are acutally seeing. Not just what the EPA and corn lobby are “saying” you should see.

    Even then, if it is really just 3%, why don’t they start doing official EPA MPG stats using E10? Since that’s what the consumer has available and is mandated in most states now. Then the window sticker EPA estimate may better match what folks really get, instead of saying it’s the E10 that is keeping them from missing that mark in their new car. I’m sure folks would rather be pleasantly surprised if they found real gas and got better gas mileage instead of suing that they’re not getting what they were promised.

  16. Bill-S Says:

    Oh yeah, almost forgot…

    So with the new proposed higher fuel economy standards, shouldn’t cars meet those new requirements with E10 since that is what is forced/available almost everywhere? Not ethanol free gas which is getting harder and harder to find…

  17. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Yeah, they should run the EPA tests with E10. That’s all you can get where I am. If they used E10, it would probably affect the numbers some vehicles get and not others, depending on how the test results would be rounded. You can be sure that those 40 mpg highway ratings would be lower, though, and the 50-53 ratings of Prius might be 2 mpg lower.

  18. Kit Gerhart Says:

    For anyone who might be interested, here’s some info on the EPA tests:


  19. jesse Says:

    E10???Hell,they’re working on stuffing E15 down our throats (gas tanks). What a crock that is.Bad enough we have to use E10.GAS MILEAGE GOES DOWN but the farmers bottom line goes up.Guess it’s time to go back to riding a bicycle!

  20. Danny Turnpaugh Says:

    Chrysler and quality is funny, I worked at the Chrysler transmission plant in Kokomo,In and my new 2006 Jeep Liberty had transmission problems at 100 miles, I was setting in a class about quality and the instructor was talking about the dept that made my transmission as having the best quality in the plant, I told him of my experiance and he said good thing I got it instead of a customer, well I hate to tell him I was a customer and paid for the Jeep. I since took a buyout and won’t ever buy a chrysler product again in this lifetime.

  21. XA351GT Says:

    Kit and Bill-S alcohol burns at a rate 3X of gas. My Dad raced with Alky and the carb jets had to be set 3X what they were on gas. So I wouldn’t doubt your 7-12% #s Couple E10 and oxygenated fuels that we run here in the NE during winter and gas milegae drops a ton, close to 20% Just more gimmicks for fuel companys to sell more fuel and try to pawn it off as enviro friendly. BS the only green they care about is $$$.

  22. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Your dad would have been using methanol, not ethanol. Methanol has a significant lower energy density than ethanol, which has a lower energy density than gasoline.

  23. Kit Gerhart Says:

    It takes about 2.1 gallons of methanol to produce the energy (heat) of one gallon of gasoline.

    You use very large jets in a carburetor on an engine running methanol because the fuel burns at a much lower air/fuel ratio than gas. Methanol has a stoichiometric ratio of about 6.4 to 1, while gas has a ratio of about 15 to 1.

  24. Marsh Says:

    Honda should NEVER have been sued over what kind of mileage the car got. They have no control over the mileage rating for vehicles.

    The United States goverment, the EPA does the vehicle testing and certifies what the window sticker show.

  25. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Actually, the manufactures test their own vehicles, but yeah, the results are “approved” by the EPA. This is from the EPA site:

    “Fuel economy is measured under controlled conditions in a laboratory using a standardized test procedure specified by federal law. Manufacturers test their own vehicles—usually pre-production prototypes—and report the results to EPA. EPA reviews the results and confirms about 10-15 percent of them through their own tests at the National Vehicles and Fuel Emissions Laboratory.”

  26. C-Tech Says:

    I heard Carroll Shelby died yesterday. He was one of the great people in auto racing and a legend.