Monday, August 24, 2009

CARS aka Cash For Clunkers was a wild ride, but it's over and I didn't scrap the Ranger

So, like many Americans I took note of the CARS program, more commonly known as Cash For Clunkers, and was actually persuing a new vehicle under this program. Mine was a complicated deal initially, because I did not want to scrap my beloved Ranger, but instead trade in my beloved's Isuzu Rodeo. That was not going to work for a number of reasons.

Then I decided I would part with my Ranger, see it put to a miserable death and scrapped.
But fate had other plans for me and the Ranger. My dealer and I couldn't meet in the middle on a couple of details and I walked.

Now I've advertised the Ranger for sale, not scrap, but to a "good home" for "market value".
I've checked Kelly Blue Book and NADA sites for the estimated value of my Ranger and have actually gotten a couple of nibbles. I decided to get the Auto Check report from NADA, it's half the price of the CARFAX, in case any prospective buyers don't believe my claim of 57,670 miles on a truck that's 10 years old.

I'd love to sell my Ranger to a good home, then go back to the dealer that didn't want to honor my Xplan pin and see if he's so confident that he's going to get full price for the silver Escape.

In the end, it was an experience, not just for me, but for our nation. Pundits are kicking the can around the block, bitching and moaning about the program and every media is looking for the latest opinion and factoid. I still think that it was a good program, maybe not run very well, but out of the billions of stimulus dollars flushed this year, it's the only program that the average citizen could actually feel a benefit from.

I'm working long hours this week and waiting to hear if this fellow wants to buy the Ranger, but I'll update as I can.

Friday, August 21, 2009

CARS aka Cash For Clunkers to end Monday, just as plants spool up production?

So, news today (actually I think it was yesterday) is that the Feds have decided to end the CARS program Monday night. There's been debate about how much of a sucess the program has been, but in my opinion it's been a relatively good thing. I've heard that it's just pushed people's purchase timetable forward, steeling future sales, and that may be true. There's been criticism of how well the government has administered the program and dealers have concerns about payment. Pundits will be picking apart the details like a Thanksgiving Turkey for months to come. I missed my chance with this program, but there's still hope for me getting a new vehicle none the less, but I'll post on that Monday.

What I find amazing is the timing for the government canceling the program, it seems very sudden. Earlier this week it was anounced that the program was doing so well that manufacturers, including Ford and GM were ramping up production to meet demand.
All week I've been seeing more and more TV commercials from almost every manufacturer saying you can purchase or lease a new model under the Cash For Clunkers. And now they're pulling the plug? Just over 72 hours left to get your deal done. Will dealers be open on Sunday to take advantage of this?

Let's not forget that dealers have been pulling out of the program because of concerns about being paid for deals already in the pipeline. I went to a local Jeep/Chrysler dealer on Tuesday and was told they're no longer in the program.
I was a wild ride while it lasted and we'll see in a few months how good it was overall, but from my perspective I'd say it has to be the best spent stimulus money so far.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Now I know why my Honda dealer has so many CRVs on the lot while I can't find a Ford Escape ..

This is going to go in one ear and out of the other of folks that have drank the Kool Aid from Honda, but I went to the dealership to check out a new 2009 CRV. I know people love them, I went in with an open mind. And let me be honest, a couple of years ago I leased the last generation CRV for my mom. And I like that car, it was nice enough. But while I have been in the back seat of my friend's CRV for short trips (and hated it) I had not sat in the driver's seat of the newest CRV. And you know what? It's got to be one of the worst interiors I've ever sat in. And I'm not talking the base model, I sat in the CRV EX-L (with dealer installed wood trim.)

The arm rest, center console and door panes were just horrible. The seats were uncomfortable. The dashboard was ok, not horrible, but there's no way I could live with this. And again, I'll remind people that my honey drives a 2005 Honda Civic EX coupe and that's nice.

I have driven several competitors to the Escape, including the class leading interior of the 2010 Equinox. But the Honda CRV EX-L was a shock. For a car brand so beloved and hyped I really wonder how they sleep at night. And it's not limited to the front seat, it only gets worse out back. The back seat is like something out of the Inquisition and to flip and fold, while not difficult was just not what you'd expect after driving others in this field.

The Escape/Mariner twins may have rear drum brakes, but let me tell you again, how despite this handicap, it's still one of the best in class. I can say this safely after driving quite a few cute utes lately. My only complaint about the Ford/Mercury interior was the fact that you need to remove the rear headrests to fold the seat down. But I could sit in that back seat for a long drive if I had to.

My search for an Escape or Mariner continues. It seems that as soon as I find one on a local dealer's lot it's gone. Well, I had found one at a local dealership, but when I mentioned the X-Plan pin, he told me no way, he can get full price for it. I continue to search, with some luck.

I had considered an Escape without the leather, but then I sat in the cloth and wanted to puke.
That "Econ Friendly" cloth material is crap to the touch. I can find plenty of Escapes with leather and V6, but I4 and Leather seems to be a rare item. When they hit the dealer's floor their gone in 24 hours.

I'm checking dealers in my area on a daily basis. I know I'm not getting a Honda, my honey doesn't like the Chevy. Jeep dealers don't have Compass/Patriots with leather and moonroof. Jeep Liberty don't qualify for the Cash For Clunkers (so says my local dealer) because they don't get good enough economy ratings. Dodge is no better, Nissan ditto. I wouldn't buy a Toyota nor could you give me one.

I know I'm biased, but in all honesty I have to give the win the Escape/Mariner twins, if I can find one, that's where my money will go. I'm debating going for the V6, but that's unlikely.
One more week is what I'll give it. I'm not sure I'll have access to the Xplan Pin after that.
Cash For Clunkers money will more than likely be gone by September 1st.

It's an interesting adventure, I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Again no camera, but I did talk to New York Mustangs club today

On May 31st I was driving home from my office on a nice weekend morning when I heard then saw a line of almost 100 Mustangs. I kicked myself because I didn't have a camera . There I was stuck at a red light watching this parade of personalized late model pony cars. Well, today I stopped for coffee and there were 5 hot Mustangs, including 3 SVT Cobras, with IRS, and their owners. I walked up to the group of guys and started talking. I mentioned how I kicked myself for not having a camera and they told me all about their club New York Mustangs and their website (link in title title) and forums. As you would expect of a group of Mustang fanatics, a real nice group, with some very special ponies. Again, no camera, but I hope to meet up with this group again.

So, of course I couldn't restrain myself from asking for their opinion on an issue that I've talked about a lot over the last few years, the Mustangs lack of an IRS . And I was especially interested in hearing from the SVT Cobra owners, their opinion on the strenght of the IRS in their cars. The SVT Cobra was powerful enough out of the box, but these guys have warmed theirs over considerably, one guy putting 650 hp through the IRS. He was the only one to have any problems, but with 650 hp, that's to be expected. The other SVT Cobras are far from stock, but neither has ever had an issue. The other Mustang owners said they love their cars, but wonder how in 2010 a Mustang can't have an IRS, while they pointed out that the Camaro and Chalenger both have one. Preaching to the choir guys, I'm with you.

Take a look at my archives, go over to Jeff's site, Driving Enthusiast dot Net and read past posts, then e-mail Ford and ask them when the Mustan will get what it needs to be complete. I nearly said competative, but that would be misleading, since it's true that the Mustang is more than competing, even if initail Camaro sales are beating Mustang, in the long game it will all be Ford's to loose.

Friday, August 14, 2009

SOLD in less than 24 hours on lot, but not to me

I rushed to the dealership today at noon and when I walked in the salesman sheepishly told me sorry that the blue Escape had been sold. I can't blame him, he didn't know that another salesman sold it last night. That's less than 24 hours on the dealer's lot! I called the dealership yesterday at noon and the salesman didn't even know it had arrived on his lot, so when I told him I'd be in today at noon, I didn't think I'd need to give him a deposit, big mistake.

I found another one, that's not on the dealer lot, tried to give a deposit over the phone, but salesman told me he'd call me when it arrives. He had a point, what if the car doesn't arrive? God knows, with my luck, it could be destroyed in transit.

I know the local Honda dealership has 17 CRV EX-L in stock, which is comparable to the Escape, but you know I want a blue oval in my driveway. I talk a good game about buying a Chevy or some other cute ute, but I bleed true blue. Wish me luck.

Ford's luck has been amazing with the Cash For Clunkers, just try and find an I-4 Escape, Fusion or Focus on dealer's lots this week, same goes for Milan and Mariner as well. The fact that my local Honda dealer has 17 CRVs on the lot and there doesn't seem to be an Escape/Mariner within 20 miles of me has to tell you something.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Maybe? the 2010's are on dealer lots and CARS still has money, so maybe I'll do this..

On again, off again, when will I pull the trigger on this? As the adventure continues. I was just goofing around online, when I noticed that one of my local dealers has Escape Limited with I-4 leather and moonroof in stock. I called the salesman and I'm going to take a look at it Friday.
Now, I know I said I didn't want to scrap my Ranger, I do love that truck, it's the only way to do this. And for several reason I want to do this. Currently I own 2 vehicles, that I like a lot, but with the financial situation I could cut expenses considerably by trading the Mazda and scrapping the Ranger, and the Escape would still give me good mpg and winter driving ability.
So, here I go again, but this time armed with all the knowledge that I didn't have before and a simpler deal. I may know by Friday evening if this is going to happen and if it does, I could have the new vehicle by early next week.
And I was "this close" to going and buying a Honda CRV EX-L, the local dealer has 17 of them!
Couldn't find an Equinox at all.

Cute Ute, small SUV and Cash For Clunkers talk.

I've been working 12 hour shifts at work and lapsed with blogging this week, but here's an old school down and dirty post about Cute Utes or small SUVs and the Cash For Clunkers aka CARS program. No photos, my PC is acting up. But you more than likely know all the players.

First, my observation has been this, Ford Motor Company has been shooting vehicles off the lots as a result of the CARS aka Cash For Clunkers program. My own personal experience is this, there are not many Ford Escape/Mercury Mariners on dealer lots. When I recently attempted to make a deal and it didn't work out, because of my complicated trade deal, I decided to wait a week, review the situation and try again. I'm hunting for a Mariner at this moment, expanding my search to neighboring counties, as here in Westchester there are none to be found.

And as part of my purchase process I've been looking at all sorts of Cute Utes. You may have read my recent piece comaring the aging Escape/Mariner twins to the new 2010 Chevy Equinox. I've also driven other cute utes and comparison shopped them. Here's a breakdown of some of them and my personal opinion of them. For the record, I was shopping with these criteria in mind, must have AWD and 4cylinder engine, must have leather interior and moonroof as optional equipment and must be on dealer lot, not special order.

Dodge Caliber/Jeep Compass/Patriot triplets; Well they're all available with AWD, but good luck finding a Dodge so equipped. Leather and Moonroof are options on all. I had driven the FWD version of the Dodge several years ago when comparison shopping the Mazda 3. When the Caliber first came out I liked it, the styling was unique and it has some interesting options and features. The Boston Acustics liftgate speaker system, lit cupholders and chilled glove box storage among them. The 1.8 and 2.4 engines had received good reviews and on my test drive power was adequate. But what killed it for me, then and now, was the CVT. I'm known to prefer a manual trans, but automatics are more popular and in this class of vehicle their the norm. The CVT is alien at best and just did not leave me with a fuzzy feeling. The two Jeep clones are the same under the skin. Now, I didn't even really pick too much on the cheap feeling plastics on the interior, in the class of vehicle that's not far from the norm.

2010 Chevy Equinox; This is a nice vehicle, no doubt about it, the interior is probably among the best in it's class, GM has done an amazing job, taking many of the enhanced feel cues from the Malibu. It's 180 hp 2.4 Ecotec engine is more than competative, it's again almost class leading, with more hp than most competitors and better mpg too. This was a difficult vehicle to walk away from. But it's big, it's too big, it's more like a mini van than a cute ute. This is one to watch folks. While it's too big for my liking, it's going to be perfect for folks with kids. I almost forgot to mention just how sweet that new 6 speed auto is, it's very nice, making great use of available power with no slipping or hunting.

Nissan Rogue; this one is sort of an odd duck. The interior had some nice points, but bordered on the Dodge's cheap feel too. Does that make any sense? A nice interior that also feels cheap? Styling is sort of bland, but not ugly like the Jeep twins. And the killer? CVT again.

Now, I looked up the Mitsubishi Outlander, but in AWD it only comes with a V6 so it's out. It shares platform with the Dodge/Jeep triplets but from what I've seen they aced the interior.
I even looked at Hyundai, but couldn't find one with an I-4, I believe they also only come with V6 when you check off the AWD option box. I didn't even look at the Toyota RAV-4, I hate Toyota with a passion, not even going to lie about that. Any Toyota I've sat in over the last 20 years had just felt like crap to the touch and you couldn't give me on, never mind get me to pay for one.

So, moving on, what else do I see as competition? The Honda CRV. It's 2.4 liter I-4 puts out 166 hp, close to Ford's 171 hp from 2.5 liters. The CRV has 4 wheel disc brakes but it seems to only have a 4 speed auto? As with any Honda, it's an appliance, with little in the way of spirit. Sure it'll last 200,000 miles without a doubt, but it's like Prozac on wheels, neither spirited driver or bucking bronco, it's just sort of neutral. Like the Ford Escape it's getting kind of long in the tooth and in need of a major refresh, but it's not bad. I know one family that traded in their Clunker Chevy Blazer on one and they love it. It's an alternative there's no doubting that.

I did not look at Subarus, their mpg ratings are always so low and prices so high. I know folks that have them and love them, but I just haven't gotten around to checking them out. Maybe soon I'll drag my butt to a dealer and give a Foreter a whirl. But before I do, I'll go to their website and build/price one to see if it's competative.

So, after all that what do I have to say? First I'll say that while the Escape/Mariner are dated and not cutting edge, they're still great little wagons and a solid value. The Equinox is nicer, a lot nicer, but it's more like a mini van, sort of like the Dodge Journey. The Honda CRV is the major competior here. I don't know yet where my purchase will be, I'm still hunting an elusive Mariner.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Washington Examiner, how is CARS aka Cash For Clunkers working out for Detroit?

Mark Tapscott emailed me this post from a fellow Washington Examiner writer that sheds some light onto how the Big 3 are doing in the CARS program. And it's interesting to see that 2 of the top ten models being sold are Ford.
While I expected the Focus to do very well, and it has, I was surprised to see it #2 to the Toyota Corolla, but above #3 Honda Civic. I dare you to find a Focus on dealer's lots today. As I said, Ford positioned itself very well for this program and the Focus was a natural with it's 34 mpg and high level of standard content.

And at #7, the Escape is the best selling cute ute or tall wagon, beating out the Honda Fit and Dodge Caliber. As you'll know, if you've been checking my site lately, I recently tried to wrangle a deal on a Mariner (the Escape's "City Cousin") and dealer supplies of these twins are flying off the lots. So, while Toyota and Honda do dominate the list, Ford's placement is very good.

And on the list of top ten vehicles traded in? Wow, a lot of older Dearborn iron is being crushed!
Explorer #1 F-150 #2 and out of the top ten 5 are Ford? As the author notes, it's no surprise that Honda and Toyota are doing well, but his concerns that these are losses of past Ford customers may be of less concern. How many owners bought these vehicles new is not in these stats. I'm going to assume that many of them may have been bought second hand and this does not reflect poorly on FoMoCo.
Sure I'm biased, that's obvious, but it's also fair to say that the Focus 2nd place spot on the sales list is certainly a sign that Dearborn, if not their Detroit neighbors, has done very well. Further proof of how well is available in a recent Autoblog post on monthly sales stats here
Some see the glass as half empty, I see Ford doing very well.

Carnival Of Cars has been back for a while now...

Mark Tapscott of the Washington Examiner has cranked up the Carnival Of Cars again!
I'm actually a bit late with this, he's been back at it for a couple of months now.
The Carnival Of Cars was started long before I got started in 2005, I think by The Auto Prophet, and has been authored by several respected bloggers over the years. Mark has been doing it the last few years and thankfully has started at his new home, the Washington Examiner.
It's a great roundup of interesting blog posts from around the automotive blogsphere and every once in a while I get metioned ;)
So, take a trip to the Carnival (linked in title) and treat yourself to a walk on the wild side of the blogsphere.....

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Ford can't replace the Escape/Mariner soon enough!

I've always been a fan of FoMoCo's Escape/Mariner/Tribute mini SUVs, hell I recently tried to buy one. And while I really like it, there were some major eye openers for me. Did you know that it's the ONLY compact SUV that doesn't even offer 4 wheel disc brakes as an option? Many have them standard, but even on the top of the range Escape Limited and Mariner Premier it's not even available. Rear Drum brakes, how quaint. Sure the Escape/Mariner are nice driving little wagons and the fresh styling does look good, but the brakes aren't the only penalty when compared to crosstown or overseas rivals. Let's just compare the Ford and Chevy ok?
Chevy has an all new 2010 Equinox and I drove one this week, it's impressive, very impressive.
From the standard 4 wheel disc brakes, to the 10 horespower and 4 mpg advantage over the Ford it's almost in a different class. And the only bad thing about it, is that it's too big! The quality of the interior has taken a lot of cues from the new Malibu and the level of technology and luxury are equal to or superior to any competitor. New 6 speed auto trans, 2.4 L with 181 hp and with the AWD still gets 29 mpg on the highway. But it's big, it feels big and as my honey said, it almost feels like a minivan. Which makes it closer to the Dodge Journey.

That's why I say FoMoCo can't hurry the new Escape, based on the Kuga, to market soon enough. Cute Utes, small SUVS, what ever you want to call them are a growing segment in this shrinking market. And the Kuga has 4 wheel disc brakes and all the luxury bits already. It's unknown what powertrain it would use here in the North American market, but even with a 2.0 Duratec it couldn't do too bad, more than likely it would come with the 2.5 or an EcoBoost engine to stay competative.

As much as I like the Escape/Mariner, and I like them a lot, Ford needs to get up to speed in this segment. One of the remaining sweet spots.

New car is not in the cards, CARS or no

So, the end result of a week's worth of labor? No new car for me. After 7 days of arguing every single point of the deal, I've decided that Ford needs the sale more than we need the car.
That means the only Ford I'm dreaming about right now, is my good old Ranger.

I'm not going into personal details here in a public forum, but to be fair to the dealership, this was not a simple deal, it involved me and my honey and a very complicated government program. I could have simplified things very simply by trading my Ranger in as a "Clunker" but there is no way I'm allowing this truck to be scrapped, it's just been too good to me these last 10.5 years and it's only got 57,500 miles on it. Original clutch and only second set of tires.

I had looked at many options with this program, even considering going beyond the Blue Oval and test driving a Chevy Equinox, and I'll comment on that in another post.

It's my opinion that anyone who didn't get a deal in the first weeks of this program won't be getting a great deal no matter how much money the government throws at the program.
First, there are too many hoops to jump through. Second, dealers are overwhelmed by the mountain of paperwork involved. And lastly, with lower inventory on dealer lots, the cars that qualify for the greatest discounts just aren't on the lots.

I've visited several Ford and Mercury dealerships and Escapes and Mariners are becoming scarce, as are Fusions, Milans and Focus.

I'm finally throwing up my hands and wishing everyone involved good luck.
Customers, dealers, auto recyclers and every taxpayer. In the end, I think this was a great program and I hope it worked for some folks. If I was willing to see my faithful Ranger killed it would have worked for me.

I'm going to try and avoid posting about the CARS program unless there's something that really sparks interest in me.