Thursday

German & Japanese Cars Top the Quality Survey

JD Power does a quality survey every once in awhile on motor vehicles a few months after they are sold new. The results can be interesting and many consumers use it as a guide to overall quality of a brand or model line.

In this year's survey, announced June 2006, Porsche had the highest quality cars (at that price, they ought to be), followed by BMW and Mercedes (ditto that comment). Toyota's Lexus luxury brand came next, followed by Nissan's Infiniti luxury brand.

Meanwhile, the Ford Mustang took the mid sized sporty car segment award and the Ford Fusion took the mid sized car quality award. Although 14 of the 2006 Ford models have been recalled, the Mustang and the Fusion weren't among them (at least not as of June 29, 2006).

JD Power based the study on its survey of more than 63,000 people who bought or leased 2006 model cars and trucks, after 90 days of ownership.

The real shocker for many people? Hyundai beat out Toyota for the Number 1 spot as "non premium" (read, cheap) brand make in quality. Hyundai has come a long, long way from its early "dead dog" days.

The survey results aren't that surprising, seemingly once again proving the old adage of "you get what you pay for." Although some 5,000 Porsche Carrera vehicles were recalled in early 2006, that's nothing compared to the numbers other manufacturers have to deal with sometimes. For instance GM announced one recall that covered over 800,000 trucks. In another recall, there were 425,000 Chevy and GMC vans at one time.

But we aren't just GM bashing. Even the usually high quality Nissan can mount a pretty good size recall. Take, for instance, 85,000 2006 Altima vehicles that risk catching fire. I guess that what happens when you don't step up to the Infiniti?

Wondering if your car was recalled? You can quickly check our Recall List by clicking here.

Top model in each category:
• Subcompact car: Kia Rio/Rio Cinco and Suzuki Aerio (tie)
• Compact car: Toyota Corolla
• Compact sporty car: Mazda MX-5 Miata
• Compact premium sporty car: Porsche Cayman
• Entry premium car: Lexus IS 250/IS 350
• Midsize premium car: Lexus ES 300
• Large premium car: Lexus LS 430
• Premium sporty car: Lexus SC 430
• Midsize sporty car: Toyota Solara
• Midsize car: Toyota Camry
• Large car: Pontiac Grand Prix
Truck/Multi-activity vehicle segments
• Compact MAV: Hyundai Tucson
• Midsize MAV: Toyota Highlander
* Large MAV: Toyota Sequoia
• Midsize premium MAV: Lexus GX 470
• Large premium MAV: Lexus LX 470
• Large pickup: Chevrolet Silverado LD
• Midsize pickup: Ford Ranger
• Van: Chrysler Town & Country

Monday

Mercedes Smart Car Coming to US

DaimlerChrysler has announced that it plans to sell the Mercedes 2 seater, 60 mpg "Smart Car" in the US next year. Only 8 feet long and 5 feet wide, the Smart Car has been the darling of the Europe's fashion-conscious younger crowd since they came out in 1998.

It's no wonder. The Smart Car takes up less than half the space of the normal parking spot, gets better mileage than any gas engine legally running on US roads, and is just about as perfect as it can get for short trips and people who care about mileage. It has a lot going for it and not much to detract. Top that off with the Mercedes badge, and you've likely got a winner.

I have to admit to some bias here. I saw a couple of these in Europe a few years back and was absolutely stunned at the styling, the size, the roomy interior. It was unquestionably the coolest thing on the road. I would have bought one right then if I had a suitcase big enough to get it in and sneak past customs!

There was some favorable press about the Smart Car a few years back, when plans were afoot to import them to Canada and then the US, but the plan has taken longer to come to fruition than expected. A California company, Zap, has been in the "energy efficient transportation" business since 1994 and already has dealerships scattered across the country (primarily on the West Coast), apparently ready to begin selling the Smart Cars in short order, with more dealer applications pending. If there was a dealer near me, I'd be over there buying one right now!

Mercedes tried to launch a four seater version in Europe but sales have been dismally disappointing for the normally luxury level marque. The car is powered by a three cylinder turbo charged engine and DaimlerChrysler has high hopes for US sales. But it's the styling and size that makes people look twice. That probably had something to do with the Smart Car being used in The DaVinci Code movie in a marvelous chase scene thru tiny streets and tight traffic in Paris.

The odds are you won't see the Smart Car on our Lemon Law Recalls Page anytime soon after it starts selling in the US, I'd bet. In our experience, people who love their cars tend to complain much, much less when faced with defects. So unless DaimlerChrysler or Mercedes really blow it with the US market modifications, a lot of city dwellers will likely tolerate all but the worst of defects.

DC's decision may be well timed---coming as it does right when US consumers are more fuel price conscious than they have been at any time since the oil embargo of the 70's. While the Smart Car is certainly something to be seen, what I really, really want to get an up close and personal look at is The Roadster Finale Edition ... sporty looks, 6 speed transmission, lots of options and leather interior. Of course, you do have to give up something to get those great looks. It only gets 44 mpg (or was that mpkm?). You can download the 1 meg + brochure here for more details.

"We Don't Need No Stinkin' Regulations"

So, what does a manufacturer do if the law says that they are supposed to tell every owner about a recall but they don't want to do it? Easy, you get the federal government to go along with (after all, they are supposed to enforce the law and once they agree not to, what can anyone else do about it?). Once again, consumer rights take the back seat, but this time it could be in a deadly defective vehicle.

That seems to be what has happened. Consumer protection groups challenged the federal government's policy of allowing "regional" recalls. That's where a recall is issued because of a defect but the recall is limited to the vehicles in just a smaller area of the country. That kind of recall can work to fix most of the vehicles, but it doesn't take into account the fact that cars frequently get sold across states lines and across the country at auto auctions. The result? Some are fixed and some are not, but they all have the defect.

One attorney, fighting the regional recall issue, said the policy was arbitrary, noting a regional recall involving corrosion damage could involve vehicles registered in Maryland and Washington, D.C., but not in Virginia. About 250,000 Virginia residents commute to Maryland and D.C. every day and would not know about the recall or receive the benefit of having the defect repaired for free, she said.

Some state governments have also objected to the regional recall practice. In 2005 Wisconsin objected because GM issued a recall that covered Illinois and Michigan vehicles but not Wisconsin ones. "Unfortunately, these regional recalls exclude many defective vehicles that should otherwise be eligible for recall repairs," Lautenschlager complained. Other states were eventually added to the recall only after they complained loud and long that they should have been included in the first place and the federal government and GM finally agreed.

A regional recall example might be where a part is prone to rust and something might fall off your vehicle, like a tailgate on a pickup truck. Rust might be worse in some areas of the country than in other areas, so the manufacturer might not tell the owners who live outside of the recalled region. Of course, if you move into the recall region and don't know about the recall, then you won't know about the defect either.

Apparently some "activist" judges have sided with the administration and okayed the practice. Although federal law requires that all owners be notified of a recall, regardless of where they live or where the vehicle is registered, the federal government's department in charge of safety recalls notified manufacturers that they could ignore the law and just notify those owners who live in an area where they think the recall would matter.

That's a bit like the corporations saying, to put it bluntly, "we don't need no stinkin' regulations." Maybe they don't, but consumers who drive cars with dangerous defects ought to be warned when the manufacturer knows that some defects are more dangerous in some parts of the country but not others. At least then you can think twice before you move to a state where nothing more serious than just the usual weather can make your car dangerous because the manufacturer didn't build it to handle those freezing, blustery cold winter nights in Houston...

If you call your dealer and they say that your vehicle wasn't covered by a recall, the dealer could be technically telling the truth while, all the time, lieing to you.

If you aren't sure if your vehicle was the subject of one of these regional recalls, go to our Research Links web site page and check out our Defect Resources links to find out.

Friday

Car Crooks Have Creative Lawyers

It is reported by Alisa Priddle at WardsAuto.com that the second richest man in Korea sits in a jail cell right now (deservedly so, some say). He happens to be the Chairman of Hundai Motor Group, Chung Mong-koo, who was arrested April 28 on embezzlement ($105 million) and other charges, but he is still running his automotive empire from his jail cell. His lawyers, in the meantime, are coming up with some very, very creative arguments as they try to get him out on bail.

Chung is known as a man who likes to be in charge. Since that's tough to do in a jail cell, his lawyers have argued for bail, citing that his company can't be managed properly without its chairman on site. He is widely credited with Hyundai and Kia expansions and success of recent times and his auto empire's tentacles stretch thru all parts of the business, from making the steel to financing the sales. That may have influenced the reportedly 1 million signatures on petitions calling for his release from jail.

With plans in the works for new plants in the US and the Czech Republic, his lawyers argued that Chung needs to be personally involved in the decision-making and that without him, the Korean economy will suffer.

Not trusting the argument to be successful (after all, this is the man who founded the Korean watchdog group that was supposed to wipe out corporate abuses and who signed the Korean Pact on Anti-Corruption in 2005 on behalf of the auto industry), Chung showed up at a June 12 bail hearing in a wheelchair with claims of frail health.

Yeah, right, frail health. It just goes to show that even billionaires can get in frail health from breathing too much jail air.

Anyway, the lawyers now argue that Chung can only be partly responsible for the embezzlement and other charges because he had no "direct" knowledge of what was going on with the illegal funds. Problem is, on the question of bail, Korean courts look to see if the accused has admitted his wrongs and is remorseful. That seems to run counter to Chung's approach of (paraphrasing here) "I didn't do it but if I did I didn't know what was really going on."

So what to do? No problem, just fess up.

Now, Chung apparently has decided to admit responsibility and that he was told they needed a "slush fund" and he authorized it. The argument's "logic" (if you can call it that) seems to lead to an emphatic "Oh yeah, by the way, can I get out of jail now?"

The next bail hearing is June 26 for Chung. Only time will tell if the court decides that Chung is only saying what he knows he has to say or if he really means it. 'course, if they think he really means it, I've got some beachfront property in Kansas I'd like to sell them...

One can't help but wonder if Chung had been minding his business right, instead of stashing away millions of dollars for bribe money, maybe Hyundai wouldn't have had to recall nearly a quarter of a million cars because the air bags' computer systems weren't built right!