AUTOMOBILES-PART TWO, THIS WEEK!

Hyundai Sonata

Kia Forte

Nissan Leaf


To my valuable readers, I must tell you that once a “car guy, always a car guy”. Even though I have moved on to the great adventures of landscaping and home improvement, I still watch the car business pretty closely, thus my commentary a couple days ago about the current misfortunes of Toyota and Honda.

Those problems that have reared up to bite Toyota and Honda are turning out to blessings for the other auto makers, particularly Hyundai and Kia. Hyundai and Kia have weathered the economic down-turn quite well. There sales have actually risen and their market shares have become larger. You’re probably wondering why? These two companies from South Korea, actually Kia is a subsidiary of Hyundai, have stuck to their plan. Hyundai’s goal of catching Toyota in sales is actually starting to come into view. I remember when I was with a Nissan-Kia dealership, Hyundai announced this goal. We all howled, saying “that’s more a dream than a goal!” Well, truth be told now, it may not be far-fetched at all. These two Korean car makers have rolled out some great product in the past few years. they are now gaining in sales because they build very high quality products at very reasonable prices. That means real value for the consumer. They started the longest warranty programs in the industry several years back to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, they were great vehicles. To show how determined these companies are to grow and improve, they pay the dealers for their warranty claims. Some manufacturers are a little tight about that. When dealers are paid, they are happy. Happy dealers make for happy dealership employees which translates into excellent customer satisfaction. I’m maybe giving you some insider information here, but it’s all good! Remember, I recommended that going to your local dealer is the best practice. Do check out the general mood of the employees in the business as well as the cleanliness and orderliness of things. Nothing irritates me more than smoking employees by the doors of the business. Check to see if that business cares enough to prohibit this activity and that there are no cigarette butts spread about the grounds. Ask friends and neighbors for their opinions. Does the dealer have an active, easy to use web-site. I managed the new car department at a Nissan-Kia dealer for many years. It was tough, but we did embrace the internet, and it’s been a great tool for the business. The general manager I worked for was a genius, when it came to marketing. When he made the decision to dump print advertising, he was one of our metro area’s first to do so. Acknowledging the tumbling readership of newspapers was right on. We ratcheted up the electronic advertising, television, because people now gather most of their information from that avenue. Most car shoppers today, over 80%, do at least some part of their purchasing process via the internet, that’s why it’s important the dealer have a good web-site, and good people to assist the customers from that source. My Nissan-Kia store was doing that. But, remember, the most important thing for the consumer is to get what they want at a price they are comfortable with and fair. The internet offer web-sites to do your research, Edmonds.com, NADA.com, etc. These sites offer information about the cars and pricing. Some will go so far as to reveal dealer’s cost, or invoice and some may go so far as to showing what the “hold-back” or manufacturer-to-dealer incentives are. Please, remember, automobile dealers are businesses, they are not non-profits! You must be fair when negotiating with them. Don’t simply say “make it up on the next guy”, because the guy before you might have already said that. If you want your lowest price to purchase, be ready to pull the trigger, don’t hem and haw and threaten to shop. You must be in a position to commit to the transaction. Please be fair. Now my blood is flowing! Too many years in the trenches. I would avoid “one-price” or “no negotiate” dealers. They are taking advantage of the people who don’t like to negotiate or are afraid of negotiating. It sure worked for Saturn, didn’t it?

Now, for you bark and twig eaters who are hell-bent on saving the planet. Forget about Prius, forget about Insight, forget about all those hybrids on the market today. Wait until later this year when Nissan releases for sale the new Leaf. This will be the first production all-electric car to hit the market. Because of its lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, the car can go full torque for 100 miles before being re-charged. You’ll have a re-charging station at your house, and you simply plug it in at home. You can set the timer to re-charge at the lowest, therefore the cheapest, demand time of the day, usually overnight. This is a tried and proven vehicle, having been used in Japan for some time. It will be built in Smyrna Tennessee. Nissan has built another facility in Tennessee to manufacture the batteries.

The best thing to do for the health of the planet and the retarding of raw material usage is to simply keep driving the car you presently have. They don’t have to mine more ore for metal, cut down more trees for fuel, wood, and rubber, they don’t have to use more fossil fuels to power the assembly plants, etc. If the car you’re presently driving is in good shape, runs well, and is safe to operate, keep driving it. There are things you can do to make your present vehicle more efficient like keeping the tires at the proper inflation level, changing the oil every three to five thousand miles, keeping the engine in tune to proper specs, and last, change your filters regularly, oil, air, and fuel. My good friends in the car sales business probably cringe with this recommendation, but there’s enough business out there.

Okay, now for the pitch! With Toyota and Honda having their issues to deal with, here’s what I think people in the market should look for. First, forget the big SUV’s and pick-ups. I made a trip to Italy a couple years ago and I noticed they don’t have these gas guzzling road hogging pigs. If, you have to move people, try a mini-van. They have six cylinder engines, plenty of power to move the vehicle, and pretty decent gas mileage. If you need a pick up for work, that’s one thing, but a pick up as the main or second vehicle, that’s just dumb! Drive smaller cars that get higher fuel mileage. Toyota and Honda are good companies, but now it’s time to take a good look at Nissan. Long considered the “other” Japanese auto maker, when they have always built great cars and trucks. They will be the first one out with an affordable electric car, the Chevy Volt is rumored to be in the $40,000 range, and Nissan has a great selection of quality cars which get great gas mileage. Kia, should definitely be considered as well. These are very high quality cars at very reasonable prices. In fact, I would put the quality of these cars against any others in the world! I’m serious! Do not ignore the Korean cars. The new Hyundai Sonata is breathtakingly beautiful and chock full of value. It will someday out sell the Camry! It’s already a much better car. Kia will get their version of this car, the Optima, later. The Kia Forte in my estimation, is the best car for the dollar on the American road today! I don’t want to ignore Ford and GM here because they are making great cars again as well. Good luck and good shopping, e-mail me if you need help, or make some comments that would be helpful for all the readers. Thank you. Cam Obert

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