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Kristen Hall-Geisler's Blog

It’s My Way or the SmartWay

Everybody is making the “green” claim these days, and it’s hard to know who’s for real and who’s merely using the environment as a marketing tool without taking the steps to back up the claim. There are agencies that can proclaim things certified organic, but how do you know if one car is really and “greener” than the next?

Luckily, the EPA has come up with a system to designate “good environmental performers” called SmartWay. The agency measures each vehicle’s air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and gives it a score. Those that score the best -- about the top 20 percent -- are awarded the SmartWay designation. The “best of the best” are given extra credit and named SmartWay Elite vehicles.

Mom’s Taxi Is Now Dad’s SUV

The image of Mom in the minivan may be a thing of the past. In a recent survey, more than 70 percent of fathers drive their kids to and from school, preschool, and extracurricular activities. And nearly 60 percent use an SUV or CUV to get the job done.

The survey was commissioned by Chevrolet, and it found that dads rate their family vehicle a 6.4 out of 10 -- probably because they’re not driving minivans. Fewer than 25 percent of dads admitted to doing the chauffeuring in a sliding-door mom-mobile. But like moms, dads’ first concern is with safety, not looks. Design isn’t even their second concern -- that position belongs to fuel economy.

BMW Is 2011’s Most Sustainable Auto Manufacturer

Surprise! BMW was named the most sustainable auto manufacturer for 2011 by the SAM Group for the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes. Except that it isn’t really a surprise: BMW has earned top sustainability honors for the past seven years. The maker of the luxurious six-figure 7-series and the cheap and cute Mini is also the only auto maker to be listed on the DJSI every year since the indexes were created in 1999.

American Automakers Slipping in Customer Satisfaction

It’s been a tough couple of years for everyone -- especially American automakers. The economy collapsed, two out of the Big Three received government bailouts, and gas prices have gone nowhere but up. And now they’ve got a new problem on their hands: customer satisfaction with American-made automobiles and light vehicles is dropping.

When you look at the numbers, it doesn’t seem so bad, really. It’s only a percentage point or two in most cases. But with many Asian-made vehicles gaining in customer satisfaction, Ford, Chrysler, and GM can’t afford to let buyers slip away a percentage point at a time.

Here are the auto makers who suffered a drop in 2011:

Ford Focus Electric Coming to an Outlet Near You

People may be surprised to learn that the new 2012 Ford Focus Electric was part of Ford’s plan all along. Well, maybe not the Focus in particular, but Ford has had all-electric battery-powered vehicles in development for years. What better way to introduce a zero-emissions passenger vehicle than to put the new technology in a familiar and already eco-friendly form?

Let’s get the technical stuff out of the way: it’s a five-door hatchback Focus with a 123-hp electric motor powered by lithium ion batteries. It needs a 240-volt outlet to charge in 3-4 hours, and it has a top speed of 84 mph.

Shoppers Want Higher MPGs, not Higher MSRPs

It’s not much of a surprise that poll numbers supported the recent federal government decision to raise CAFE (that stands for Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards to 54.5 mpg by 2025. Given the fact that fuel prices are only going to creep ever upward -- not to mention the environmental costs of getting the gas from the ground to the pump -- drivers are realizing the benefits of high-mileage vehicles. It helps, too, that technology is improving, with hybrid systems, valve shutoff systems, direct injection, and clean diesels that all deliver a fun driving experience with better fuel economy.

2011’s Top Ten Green Cars Offer More Choice Than Ever

If you were in the market for a green car ten years ago, your choices were few and far between. The Toyota Prius and Ford Escape Hybrid were newly available -- and rarer than hens’ teeth. Now it seems like every third driveway has a hybrid in it, and all-electric cars are moving from hobbyists’ garages to the mainstream vehicle marketplace.

When Kelley Blue Book, a well-known authority on vehicle prices and buying trends, published its annual list of the Top Ten Green Cars for 2011, it had lots of eco-friendlier cars to choose from, and they’re not all limited to that one special dealership in Los Angeles. You can find most of these cars most anywhere.

2011 Toyota Prius: Soup It Up With The Plus Performance Package

The Toyota Prius has topped the EPA’s list of best fuel economy for a decade and earned millions of devoted owners since its introduction. But what the Prius has in miles per gallon, it sorely lacks in miles per hour. So much so that it’s the butt of a joke in the summer movie Horrible Bosses:

"I was drag racing."

"In a Prius?"

"I don't win a lot."

Find Cheap Gas For Your Labor Day Road Trip

It was true in 1960, when Smokey Robinson and the Miracles sang it, and it’s true today: You better shop around. Luckily, when it comes to shaving a few cents off the price of a fill-up, it’s far easier to find a good deal now than it was fifty years ago.

With the Labor Day Holiday weekend upon us, we evaluated a number of gas price websites and mobile applications, to see what solution provides the best coverage and most reliable data, and from our point of view GasBuddy.com is the best.

Study Finds Mercedes Benz Tops List For Best Dealership Experience

It’s probably not too surprising to most car shoppers that dealerships selling luxury car brands treat their customers the best, with Mercedes-Benz topping the list for 2011. Pied Piper PSI, a company that monitors consumer satisfaction for the automotive industry, sent more than 3500 mystery shoppers to dealerships across the United States to measure how well people shopping for vehicles were treated by each brand’s staff.

The top five dealerships in the study were:

Chevy's Cruze-ing To The Top

The new 2011 Chevy Cruze compact car has done the near impossible this summer -- it became the highest-selling passenger car in the United States, beating out its rivals and longtime best-sellers the Toyota Camry and Honda Civic.

This is the first time an American company has hit this milestone in years, and Paul Eisenstein on MSNBC.com points out that events beyond GM’s control have helped the Cruze. The tsunami that devastated so much of Japan and its manufacturing network earlier this spring has slowed the rate at which the Camry and Civic are being built. The Chevy Cruze is happy to step into that void.

The Most Fuel Efficient Gasoline Powered Cars

I recently test-drove the Chevy Cruze Eco, which GM is touting as “the most fuel-efficient gasoline-powered vehicle in America.” The EPA does rate the Cruze Eco  at 42 mpg on the highway when it’s equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission; the automatic 6-speed gets 37 mpg at its best. My mostly city driving in the automatic test car averaged just under 30 mpg.

MINI Gets Even More Mini -- and Manly

2012 Mini Cooper

Anyone who thought the Mini Cooper that’s been on the market for the past decade was just too spacious is in luck. BMW, Mini’s parent company, is introducing the 2012 Mini Coupe, with only two seats and a sporty rear roofline.

The Mini Coupe will come in three variants in the US, which basically break down as fast, faster, and fastest:

- Fast: the base model Mini Cooper Coupe has a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine and a top speed of 127 mph.

- Faster: the Mini Cooper S Coupe has the same engine, but with a turbocharger added for a top speed of 142 mph.

Fuel-Efficient Used Car Prices Dropping for Summer

Kelley Blue Book

You read that right: the prices of fuel-efficient compact, subcompact, and hybrid cars are actually dropping this summer after 20 weeks of consecutive gains, Kelley Blue Book reports [kbb.com].The drop in fuel-efficient car values coincides with a drop in gas prices, of course. Gasoline hit a peak in May when the national average was $3.98. Gas prices have dropped every week in June, with a national average on June 20 of $3.65 [EIA.gov]

VW Launches 21st Century Beetle Pre-Order Program Using Amazon Technology

Volkswagen is launching its new online pre-order program with an exclusive 2012 VW Beetle Black Turbo. Only 600 of these Beetles will be built, and they are only available via pre-order at www.VW.com/preorder. A reservation fee of $495 is required to hold your place in line, but VW has instituted a “no hassle” refund policy if you decide not to take delivery of the car.

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