Edition: June 2009 - Vol 17 Number 06
The economy, with all its uncertainty, appears to be driving Americans to hold on to their cars longer and, when buying new ones, to seek the most dependable ones on the market. At 9.4 years for cars and 7.6 years for trucks, the median age of vehicles on U.S. roadways is at record-high levels, according to R.L. Polk, a market research firm. In its latest dependability study, J.D. Power and Associates found that Buick and Jaguar topped the list of brands sold in the United States that demonstrate the greatest general dependability, with Lexus, Toyota and Mercury rounding out the top five. To generate the list, the company asked 45,000 initial owners of 3-year-old cars to report, in eight categories, the type of problems their vehicles had developed over the last year. The categories were: driving experience, engine, exterior, features/controls, heating/ventilating/cooling, interior, seats and audio/entertainment/navigation. Here are some vehicles with “most dependable” ratings. Compact car: Toyota Prius (manufacturer’s suggested retail price $22,000). Midsize car: Buick LaCrosse (MSRP $26,390). Large car: Mercury Grand Marquis (MSRP $29,270). Entry premium vehicle: Lincoln Zephyr (MSRP $28,995). Midsize premium car: Lexus ES 330/Acura RL (tie) (Lexus MSRP $32,175, Acura RL MSRP $46,680). Large premium car: Lexus LS 430 (MSRP $56,525).
Don’t pick up
It’s not the type of cell phone you use while driving. It’s the simple fact that you’re using one. Hands-free devices do not make cell phones any safer when driving, according to National Safety Council President and CEO Janet Froetscher. Studies show that the principle risk of cell phone usage is the cognitive distraction of the conversation. Estimates are that cell phone use while driving contributes to 6 percent of crashes, or 636,000 crashes, 330,000 injuries, 12,000 serious injuries and 2,600 deaths each year.
Now that Volkswagen has announced it will revert to the Golf nameplate for the Rabbit, the number of cars named after animals continues to dwindle. You’ve still got the Impala (Chevrolet) and Mustang (Ford), but what’s “in” now are names and numbers that suggest they were cooked up by a computer, according to a recent article in The New York Times. What’s happening, according to one observer, is that car companies are using nondescript names to throw emphasis on the brand (e.g., Cadillac) rather than the particular model. So, instead of former Cadillac names such as El Dorado and Seville, we have the CTS and STS. One design historian traces animal names back to the Stutz Bearcat of the 1920s. However, the historian, Russell Flinchum, confesses he isn’t sure what a bearcat actually is.
Risk of reverse
Two hundred and ninety-two people are killed on average every year by vehicles backing up, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Backover incidents result in an average 18,000 injuries, 3,000 of which are judged to be incapacitating. Of the 292 fatalities, 228 can be attributed to incidents involving passenger vehicles under 10,000 pounds, according to NHTSA. While all passenger vehicle types (cars, sport utility vehicles, pickups and vans) are involved in backover fatalities and injuries, pickup trucks (72 of 228) and utility vehicles (68 of 228) represent the largest share. Automakers are addressing the problem, but expect the government to come out with mandates in the future.