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Brandon Seiler's Blog on Cars

Archive for August 2009

Police steal from unlocked cars to teach drivers a lesson

Police in London borough are taking valuables from unlocked cars in hopes of teaching civilians the importance of safety. The legal ‘thefts’ are being conducted in Richmond, where ‘real’ thefts from cars are up 40 percent in a year. Disturbingly, one-fifth of the increase were from cars left unlocked. 

“The message to car owners is: 'Help us to help you,'” Richmond Police Chief Inspector Duncan Slade said in a statement. (1)

Ah yes, the Jerry Maguire philosophy! In effect, British cops prowl their beats looking for unlocked cars. If they see something a thief might like to get their hands on such as a navigation system, purse, or box of liberally-frosted bear claws, they’ll “remove the property for safekeeping,” and leave a note explaining what’s happened and the location of the police station where the goods can be picked up. In cases where an unlocked car doesn’t’ appear to have any items inside that would catch a shady person’s eye, cops have the option of leaving a note reminding the car’s owner to be more careful.

The edgy operation has the blessings of the Richmond council, which is concerned that their otherwise idyllic crime-scape has an achilles' heel: Theft from unlocked vehicles. 

David Williams, the council's cabinet member for community safety, said: “We have the lowest level of crime per head of any borough. However, one problem we have got is too many thefts from motor vehicles. The main reason for this is sheer thoughtlessness and carelessness by car owners.”

He said most people who had their things taken from their cars by police were “relieved” and found it helpful. (2)

In related news, I flew across the pond to David Williams’ home and stole his mail to teach him the importance of securing his own goods with a lock. How careless of him; he'll have to travel to Washington to retrieve his electric bill and grocery coupons. 

Luke Bosdet, a spokesman for the AA, seems to understand my sentiments: “Not everyone will react well to having to go to the police station to retrieve their property. However, if they are stupid enough to leave items in an unlocked car then a gentle reminder is perhaps what they need,” he said. (2) 

I couldn’t agree more, Luke. 




Papa John’s founder finds long lost Camaro, clebrates with free pizza today

You heard, on Wednesday, August 26th, any Camaro owner who drives to their nearest Papa John’s will be rewarded with a large one-topping pizza for free. In 1983 Papa John’s founder John Schnatter was forced to sell his beloved 1971 & 1/2 Chevy Camaro Z28 for $1,600 when his father’s Tavern was rocked by bankruptcy. With less than two grand to work with, Schnatter managed to save his dad’s business and start one of his own - a pizzeria. It’s now 3,000 locations strong in 26 countries and worth nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars. 

Needless to say, Schnatter made it bigger than the average pizza guy, big enough to eventually offer $250,000 to anyone who could return the Camaro that helped propel him to cheesy godhood. This week the decades long search came to an end. It turns out the Papa John’s Camaro had made its way to Flatwoods, Kentucky where Jeff Robinson had modified the engine to pump out 825 HP and scorch down drag strips. From Jalopnik:

According to Robinson it's now “Probably the fastest pizza delivery car in the world, it runs a 9.55 quarter-mile at 141 MPH.” (1)

Now that Schnatter is finally reunited with his Camaro he’s celebrating by giving away a free pizza to anyone who drives a Camaro of their own to a Papa John's. Of course, Jeff Robinson probably won’t need anyone to spot him for pizza money anytime soon.

“Jeff loved the car and he knows I'm going to take car of it and it'll take a special place in the hearts of the people at Papa John's,” Schnatter said, adding “he was kind enough to sell it for $250,000.” (1) 

There’s plenty more to this story at Jalopnik, check out all the details here:

*Limit of one pizza per Camaro and one Camaro per visit. 

*Anyone have a Camaro I can borrow? 


Cash for Clunkers final numbers

Cash for clunkers is over and it's being called a great success, but the the real winners are debatable. As of August 25 at 8pm, car dealers submitted a grand total of 690,114 rebate applications amounting to $2.88 billion, just under the $3 billion budget allotted for the program. 

“Those figures clearly confirm the program did exactly what it was designed to do — stimulate our economy,” U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., said in a statement. (1) 

Easy Dingell, let’s take a look at look at the totals before we go around making public statements. Consider these factoids: 

-Top selling car was Toyota Corolla 
-American cars amounted to less than 40% of sales
-All ten of the most traded-in vehicles were American (2)

The Raw Numbers:

1. Ford Explorer 4WD
2. Ford F150 Pickup 2WD
3. Jeep Grand Cherokee 4WD
4. Ford Explorer 2WD
5. Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan 2WD
6. Jeep Cherokee 4WD
7. Chevrolet Blazer 4WD
8. Chevrolet C1500 Pickup 2WD
9. Ford F150 Pickup 4WD
10. Ford Windstar FWD Van (2)

1. Toyota Corolla
2. Honda Civic
3. Toyota Camry
4. Ford Focus
5. Hyundai Elantra
6. Nissan Versa
7. Toyota Prius
8. Honda Accord
9. Honda Fit
10. Ford Escape FWD (2)

The total sales for the program boil down to a victory for Toyota with 19.4%, a second-place finish for GM with 17.6% and Ford with the bronze at14.4%. As for Chrysler, it might be best not to speak of them (6.6%). 

On the sunny side, there were some numbers that came up roses – Ford had its first sales increase since 2007, GM added shifts and many of the cars sold under the program were assembled in the US. As for Dr. Green Thumb (the environment) she did well. The average trade-in mileage was 15.8 MPG while the new vehicles averaged 24.9 MPG; a 58% increase. (2)

Drama is still in the works at the Transportation Department were they had to increase the number of staff members working on dealer rebate applications six-fold to nearly 2,000 in the last two weeks alone to keep up with the unexpected demand. Considering the clunkers program was originally only supposed to burn through $1 billion and last through November, there’s no question the government is scrambling to get dealers their money back in a timely fashion. (1)

So, while government bureaucrats are being stuffed into cubicles to sort out the dysfunctional clunkers aftermath and sweat it out with anxious car salesmen, the show is over for consumers, many of which never had the chance to trade in a jalopy of their own and cash in on the sweet sweet rebates. That is unless they want to poke their heads down a dark alley and pipe off the special whistle for the non-government sponsored Automotive Stimulus Program. 

To learn the tune, check out my MotorSpace blog “Dealer-funded ‘Auto Stimulus Program' offers up to $4,500 for USED cars.” As you can see I’m a master of apt titles, but the point is the program should be good through November 1st if the funds hold out and could provide a back-up plan for anyone who was passed up by the clunkers operation. 

“Only 10 (percent) to 15 percent of the marketplace was qualified for Cash for Clunkers, and this is a mechanism to expand the eligibility,” said John Malishenko, operations manager for Germain Motor Co. one of nearly 40 dealers across the country that is participating in the Automotive Stimulus Program. (3) 

My big question is how credible this program is. Some seem to think it’s little more than a way to roll existing rebates into a package that will feed off the popularity of Cash for Clunkers. 

“They don't have any special deal from the manufacturer or the government that we don't have,” said Rhett Ricart, co-owner of Ricart Automotive. “There's nothing magical here. It's a different concept for marketing, and we see that all the time in this business.” (3)

Read through the blog listed above and visit the program’s official website at to judge for yourself.





Chevy Agile stuns internet with fugly

Every so often an unfortunate-looking car will slither down the pike and leave an embarrassing skid-mark on the underpants of its manufacturer. Judging by the wide-smeared cries of disgust on Internet comment boards, it’s going to be an embarrassing day at the Laundromat if GM ever decides to bring the 2010 Chevrolet Agile to the United States. 

For now the Brazilian designed Agile is intended for the South American market. Motor Trend described it as kind of looking like a Pontiac Vibe with a Chevrolet nose and Chrysler Sebring headlights. (1) A comment on Jalopnik was more blunt:

“goddam that’s one ugly pos. who’s in charger over there? a blind idiot? (2)

The general consensus seems to be that the lil’ southern dandy could give the Pontiac Aztek a run for its fugly money. Look through the comment boards on either of the sources listed here and there’s plenty of evidence that car fans are less than impressed. Still, the real tragedy of the current styling could be that the first sketches of the Agile depicted a fairly attractive little car – one that Jalopnik described as a “Fiesta-Fighter.” See the pictures here:

Obviously a lot changed from the drawing board to production and most of it looks like bad plastic surgery. There’s a chance we could see the Agile stateside if GM thinks Americans would bite. What do you think? Is it really that ugly or is the Agile getting a bad wrap? 



Army to test hybrid-electric and fuel-cell vehicles, tanks included

Military tanks are to Prius' as the NRA is to PETA, right? Maybe not – The U.S Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center began construction this week on a 30,000-square-foot facility that will be used to test military vehicles ranging from HMMWVs to tanks with hybrid-electric and fuel-cell technologies. It’s called the Ground Systems Power and Energy Laboratory (GSPEL), and for all you military-industrial complex conspirators out there, it’s being built in Warren, Michigan. From the press release: 

“Military vehicles provide special testing challenges because they operate at extremely high power levels under extreme environmental conditions, often requiring new and experimental technologies. Currently no such facility exists to meet these challenges; therefore, the Army determined it needed a one-of a kind, fully integrated test facility.” (1)

As if the Army wasn’t green enough already (ha!) the new building is designed to meet an Army mandate that all new construction be certified under the “Silver” category of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. 

Amongst other goodies inside the enviro-friendly walls, there will be eight engineering laboratories for testing hybrid electric components, advanced energy storage devices, fuel cells, heat exchangers, air filtration systems and specific research on electric motors, batteries and ultracapcitors – wikipedia that last one under “Electric double-layer capacitor” if you’re so inclined. 

But what’s the primary mission of GSPEL you ask? Take a deep breath:

“GSPEL’s primary mission is to reduce the development time while simultaneously improving reliability associated with advanced technologies so they can be used immediately with high confidence in demanding Army conditions. In this way GSPEL will help to expedite the integration of hybrid-electric and fuel-cell technologies into advanced military vehicles,” says Mike Kluger, a senior program manager in the SwRI Fuels and Lubricants Research Division. “In doing so, it will help reduce vehicle fuel consumption and improve overall vehicle performance.” (1)

If you read that slowly a couple times it makes a lot of sense. GSPEL is expected to be operational in two years… Imagine a whisper-quiet tank…Scary. 


Twitter helps kill new Buick crossover

Barely two weeks after GM Product Development Chief Tom Stephens announced plans to slap a plug-in hybrid option on a new compact crossover from Buick, General Motors bailed on the project, in part because of Twitter. From Jalopnik: 

“We spoke with two unnamed sources at GM, one in design and one in marketing. Both told us the same thing — the Buick crossover was killed after higher-ups read tweets decrying the styling of the plug-in electric platform prostitute of a crossover.” (1)

Behold the power of Tweets! Especially this one from “kbb_lasessions” which contains an all-damming catchy nickname:

“Buick plug-in crossover still looks like VUE, with a touch of Buick. I dub thee the Vue-ick # GM”. 

Ouch. But in all fairness, it wasn’t just Twitter that led GM to abort the vehicle, its obvious copy and paste design conjured up negative press from consumers, analysts and journalists alike who had a chance to drive and view the prototype. 

“I thought it was kind of a boring looking vehicle,” said Automotive News Product Editor Rick Kranz, “What General Motors had done is just take the Saturn Vue and put a new front end on it to make it look like a Buick is what it came down to, so you had a waterfall grill and some other Buick elements but really it was not enough to make it a successful vehicle, it was an okay vehicle, and okay is no longer good enough for any car company.” (2) 



GM to build $4,000 mini-car for rumble with Tata Nano

While the Chevy Volt is hogging most of GM’s press time these days, word is out that General Motors is also scheming to take on the Tata Nano with an uber-cheap compact city car expected to retail in the area of $4,000 – their cheapest ever to date. 

Unfortunately, most people with their press finger on the auto industry pulse agree it’s unlikely such a little jewel will see American soil any time soon. The car will most likely be produced and sold in Asia where the market for miniature cars is much stronger. 

“When Tata Motors in India came out with their $2500 Nano vehicle, it put a lot of automakers on the spot,” said GM executive vice president of international operations, Nick Reilly, at a recent press conference in Brazil. 

“We are not going to make cars that cheap because that is really a specific car for a very specific market that has different emissions standards and specifications than markets like the U.S. and Brazil,” he stated. “So we are looking at lower-cost vehicles, but do not know yet where it will be made or where will it be sold, though most likely in Asia.” (1)

Whether or not there may be an emerging demand for basement-priced pint-sized economy cars in the US could be beyond the point as GM officials say two-thirds of car sales come from outside our borders. (2)

Motor Trend reports that GM currently produces several “microcar-type vehicles” in China with partner SAIC and already has the hardware to design a vehicle that if packaged correctly could “give the Nano a run for its rupees.” (1) 



VW will buy 42% stake in Porsche, full merger and world domination expected


Europe’s largest carmaker wants to be the biggest in the world and after nearly a year of tussling they’re now one step closer. On August 13, Volkswagen AG agreed to purchase a 42 percent stake in Porsche for up to 3.3 billion euros ($4.7 billion). A full merger is expected to follow with VW CEO Martin Winterkorn running both companies. 

Porsche will be joining a mega-conglomerate that already features such luxury and performance brands as Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Skoda, Seat and Lamborghini. But the buck doesn’t stop there - From Volkswagen’s annual report: 

“Our goals are unchanged,” he (Winterkorn) says – which means they remain ambitious: by 2018, the Group aims to be the number one worldwide in terms of unit sales, profit, quality and employer image. (1)

“Porsche is a real enrichment for our company's portfolio,” Winkterkorn said. (2)

Those words take on more weight when you stop to read the roller coaster history behind the current deal as described by Automotive News:

“Porsche's surrender comes at the end of a months-long power struggle that eventually led to the departure of Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking. It marks a triumph for Volkswagen CEO Winterkorn and VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech.”

Dizzying highs! Crushing lows!

“Porsche had sought to seize control over Volkswagen — already Europe's biggest carmaker — as a way to gain access to key components and technologies it needs to meet stringent new pollution rules.”

“But Porsche's takeover attempt backfired after it took on more than 10 billion euros in debt, forcing it to seek help from Volkswagen.” (1)

The bitter sting of humility! 

What sorts of vehicles will emerge from the Volkswagen-Porsche fusion? Only time will tell, but the VW gene pool is definitely looking formidable and primed for expansion. 


BMW to unveil world’s most powerful hybrid

If all goes as planned at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, the 2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6 will make its world premier as BMW’s first full hybrid model, and the world’s most powerful hybrid vehicle. Oh yeah, and fuel economy is expected to improve 20 percent over the standard twin-turbo X6 to an estimated 18 mpg combined, or still low enough to qualify for the Cash For Clunkers program. 

The guys at Beamer took the standard X6’s 400 hp twin-turbocharged V8 gasoline engine and added two electric motors making 91 hp and 86 hp respectively to achieve a maximum power output of 480 hp and 575 lb-ft of torque. Compared to the mighty X6 M that produces 555hp and 501 lb ft of torque, the hybrid version actually produces more low-end grunt with help from the electric motors. Pushed through a seven-speed transmission and xDrive AWD system, that translates to a 0-60 time of 5.5 seconds, from a hybrid SUV.

From the press release: 

“ActiveHybrid technology provides a glimpse into the future, achieving outstanding driving dynamics with equally impressive efficiency. It melds both of these qualities to offer a truly unique driving experience.

The result is even greater driving pleasure combined with enhanced fuel economy and CO2 management providing the kind of progress to make the BMW ActiveHybrid X6 a genuine BMW in the hybrid market.”

Up to 37 mph, the ActiveHybrid can run solely on electric power for up to 1.6 miles. Under the 'power dome' hood that helps clear the power electronics module, there is no starter, alternator, or belt drive for the air-conditioning compressor and hydraulic pump, which is a good thing, I think. 

The official EPA numbers will not be released until later this year when the ActiveHybrid X6 begins to appear in US BMW showrooms. Until then it would be safe to assume it will still smoke the sh** out of a Prius. 



Dealer-funded ‘Auto Stimulus Program’ offers up to $4,500 for USED cars

Hoping to cash in on the explosive success of the Cash for Clunkers program, a group of more than 60 car dealers across the country have funded the '2009 Automotive Stimulus Program.' Unlike the government-run clunkers, the dealers are offering consumers with a qualifying trade-in $500 to $4,500 towards the purchase of new AND used vehicles with the option to lease for any term. There's no scrapping involved and the rules are less restrictive:

1. Current vehicle is a 2006 model year or older
2. Current vehicle is operable
3. Current vehicle has been owned for a minimum of six months
4. Current vehicle has been registered for a minimum of six months
5. The replacement vehicle has to be more fuel efficient by a minimum of two mpg
6. Incentives vary based on current vehicle and desired vehicle
7. Incentives vary by State, Make and Model. Incentives vary in some states due to state laws that regulate to automotive advertising and promotion. (1)

These are just the requirements for anyone with a qualified trade-in, for those who don’t own one, consumers can still qualify for the program if they buy a vehicle with a combined fuel economy of 19mpg or better. The real kicker: 

-All Auto Stimulus Plan incentives can be used in addition to the government incentive program for eligible consumers. 

If I’m not mistaken that could mean up to $9,000 off the purchase or lease of a new or USED car. But according to Automotive News, dealers only set aside between $500,000 and $5 million to be used before November 1 - much like the government-run program but with a much smaller budget. 

Motor Trend cautioned that they aren’t sure “how much additional money above normal dealer incentives this program will provide or if it's mostly a creative way to wrap existing rebates.” But added, “Regardless, it's a catchy program that has potential.” (2)

The process for participating in the program is listed on the Automotive Stimulus Program website at


1. Submit a request for pricing information by completing the form on this website.
2. A participating dealer will contact you to schedule an appointment to evaluate your current vehicle.
3. Visit the dealership to select and purchase your new vehicle and all applicable incentives will be applied to your purchase or lease of a new or pre-owned vehicle. (1)

If this process seems at all shady and anonymous there’s reasoning behind it. Sean Wolfington, co-founder of Level 5 Advertising in Dulles, Virginia which created the campaign and web site says the group won’t post a list of participating dealers because some of them “don't want the government to think they are working against them and have that affect their reimbursements.” (3)

Instead, consumer’s who fill out a request form at will have their information forwarded to as many as three nearby participating dealers. (3)

“This is a very fluid situation with cash for clunkers,” said Vince Sheehy, president of Sheehy Auto Stores Inc., of Fairfax, Virginia, “Our push has been let's see where we are going and then we will adjust our marketing program.

“Had cash for clunkers been suspended, we would have moved into this next program. We are still scrambling,” he said. (3)


GM claims Chevy Volt will get ‘at least’ 230mpg

Anyone who likes looking at cars on the internets may have recently seen a teaser ad depicting the number 230 with a smiling electric plug outlet as the “0,” set against a friendly green background. Underneath were the numbers 8-11, and nothing more. As it turns out, the daylong technical briefing GM scheduled for the media Aug. 11 and the rumored triple digit fuel-economy of the soon to be released plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt were all part of the scheme. 

During the press conference on the 11th, GM CEO Fritz Henderson announced that the upcoming Volt is expected to receive a government in-city fuel-economy rating of “at least 230 miles per gallon.” Brilliant! 

But hold the phone, skeptics are wondering just how accurate EPA testing will really be for the Volt which runs solely on electric power for up to 40 miles before the gasoline engine kicks in, not to power the car, but to power a generator that continues to run the electric motor. Consider the current EPA city/highway efficiency test procedures:


-City: 11.04 miles at a 21.2 mph average.

-Highway: 10.26 miles at 48.3 mph average. (2)

That’s a total of 21.3 miles, but the Volt can run on battery power alone for up to 40 miles. So, how far can the Volt travel on a single gallon of gas after battery power is depleted at the 40-mile mark? The real question then becomes how to fairly test that sort of thing in a way that’s comparable to gas powered and non plug-in vehicles. From Auto news: 

“Henderson said the Environmental Protection Agency is developing a rating methodology for plug-in hybrids such as the Volt…”Under those tentative rules, the Volt will be the first mass-produced car with a triple-digit fuel economy rating, he said.” (1) 

Even with the new testing regulations pending, Henderson still seems confident the Volt will rack up unprecedented efficiency numbers. Here’s what the EPA had to say on the topic - From Automotive News: 

“In a statement, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said today it has not yet tested a Volt and ‘therefore cannot confirm the fuel economy values claimed by GM.’”

“But the agency said it ‘does applaud GM's commitment to designing and building the car of the future - an American made car that will save families money, significantly reduce our dependence on foreign oil and create good-paying American jobs.’” (1)

The new standards for testing the Volt and other cars like it are due to be published later this year. Despite the outcome, the Volt’s 40-mile battery life alone could potentially be a game-changing figure for daily drivers. 

Henderson said most commuters travel less than 40 miles round trip to work meaning most Volt drivers would “not need to use a single drop of gasoline” if they charge the car overnight. He also pointed out that using Detroit-area off-peak electric rates of 5 cents per kilowatt-hour, the cost of that 40-mile charge would be only 40 cents. (1) 

Pilot production of the Volt began in June and GM now has 30 pre-production versions in testing at proving grounds. Henderson affirmed criticisms that the first generation release would be expensive but said that engineers are working to make the car more affordable for the second-generation model. 

“The Volt is becoming very real, very fast,” he said. (1) 



New BMW Isetta, Nissan GT-R fire truck/car

What do you do when a 76 percent drop knocks your car company in its second-quarter profits? BMW announced they plan to resurrect the iconic Isetta “bubble car,” publicized by Steve Urkel on the show “Family Matters.” Ever notice “Family Matters” is a double entendre? 

In a statement released by BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer: “The Board has now decided: This auto (Project i/ Megacity Vehicle) will be launched on the market as a sub-brand of BMW. As BMW is the innovation driver within the Group, the decision for a sub brand [much like the company’s M-division] under BMW is the most logical step.” (1)

BMW has been kicking around the idea of creating a modern-day microcar that draws heavy inspiration from the Isetta for nearly two years now. As describes it, the micro aims to combine “urban hipness with environmentally friendly technology.” (2) 

Even on “Family Matters,” the Isetta appeared to be from another reality. The original 250 putted about with a 12 horsepower rear-mounted motorcycle engine, had one swing-away nose panel for the door, and an overall egg shape that handsomely complemented Steve Urkel’s gigantic glasses and endearing social mishaps. 

The new car could be sold under the brand name “I-Setta,” and will likely have two side-doors, a more powerful, fuel efficient engine equipped with technologies such as direct-injection and start/stop capabilities, but the egg-shape is said to have made the cut and will be retained with the help of some modern styling cues. If all goes well, the micro could be the cleanest, most fuel-efficient car BMW has ever produced and go head to head with the likes of Daimler’s Smart brand. 

Considering the re-release of other retro-themed economy cars, such as the Volkswagen Beetle, Fiat 500 and BMW’s own Mini brand, brining about a new Isetta might not be so out of the ordinary, albeit a bit risky. From CarsToday: 

“It’s a big gamble, but in a market environment where the ability to diversify your product line up into the microcar niche is backed by the legacy of a car as friendly and recognizable as the Isetta, the chances are BMW could be on the verge of producing something very special.” (1)

The NUBRUGRING, or “The Ring,” is extra special because it’s widely regarded as being the toughest and most dangerous racetrack in the world. Dangerous in part because it’s difficult for emergency cars to reach the scene of an accident in a timely fashion due to the lack of space on the sides of the track and the overall length of the course. Hmmm, sounds like a job for a ridiculously fast emergency car.

A 2010 Nissan GT-R, Fire-Fighting Safety Car now patrols The Ring as a rapid response vehicle. It’s a good idea because the $80,000 Nissan is one of the quickest in its class around the track, and when Nubrugring isn’t closed off for racing purposes, it’s open as a toll-road to the general public. Imagine how many yahoos with a fast car take advantage of that and wind up in a wall with their stopwatches still running – a lot. 

Nissan will now come to the rescue in the Fire Truck GT-R, equipped with special graphics, light bar, full roll cage, racing seats, emergency equipment and a large tank of fire retardant hooked up to a quick-release hose. (2)

See the pictures at:  



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About this blog

Brandon Seiler is a bonafide car guy, member of the Northwest Auto Press Association and proud Washingtonian. He covers the latest auto news, technology, and pretty much anything having to do with car culture. You don't have to like cars to read his blogs, you just have to be able to read.

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