Monday, December 31, 2012

Global Gouging: A Survey of Fuel Prices Around the World

Global Gouging: A Survey of Fuel Prices Around the World

Click to enlarge.

From the January 2013 issue of CAR and DRIVER magazine

In spite of increasing domestic oil production, four-dollar-per-gallon gasoline remains an on-again/off-again reality in the United States. That's because oil and gas are global commodities, and the U.S. market isn't as insular as we might like. The prices we pay, however, still stand out as cheap. Most of our global neighbors see fuel prices at the pump so high that even the most bumptious Texas oilman would blush. We've assembled the costs of a gallon of the most popular juice in every country we could—be it leaded crud in Ghana, sugar-derived ethanol in Brazil, or near avgas in Bahrain—based on the most recent data available. Check out some of the pricing highs and lows on the dimensional map above. And no, the price in Venezuela isn't a typo—but we'd still rather empty our wallets at the pump here than live under Chávez over there.

from Car and Driver Blog

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Ford Finds Itself in Court Over Fuel-Economy Claims—Just Like Hyundai, Kia, Honda, and GM

Watching Ford follow Hyundai, Kia, Honda, and GM in getting hit with a class-action lawsuit over its cars' advertised fuel economy, one wonders if the plaintiffs' lawyers behind these actions have tried to figure out a way to sue the manufacturers of the metaphorical floodgates that are now open. This isn't to suggest that Ford's C-Max hybrid and Fusion hybrid, the vehicles at issue in the lawsuit, use as little fuel in the real world as their 47-overall-mpg EPA stats suggest. Even with lighter-footed drivers than those in the Car and Driver offices, C-Max and Fusion hybrids have fallen way short of the official EPA numbers, delivering 37 and 39 miles per gallon respectively to Consumer Reports. (Both returned fuel economy of 32 mpg in our testing). Our upside-down system for quantifying fuel economy makes this sound worse than it is—2.56 to 2.7 gallons per 100 miles instead of 2.13—but it's a big drop.

Ford has, understandably, centered its C-Max and Fusion hybrid advertising on the cars' EPA numbers. Both are rated at 47 mpg across the board—city, highway, and combined. The plaintiffs argue that Ford oversimplifies the EPA numbers in its ads: They don't say that these are EPA-based estimates, or describe the EPA's testing procedure, or that drivers probably won't see comparable numbers driving these cars in the real world. Altogether, the plaintiffs say, the high numbers in the advertising led them to buy C-Max and Fusion hybrids when they otherwise wouldn't have, to pay more for them than if the fuel-economy numbers were more accurate. And they all say they've used more fuel than they were promised they would.

But what cars don't exhibit a gap between EPA estimates and real-world performance? For everyone who says their Honda Civic beats the 40-mpg-highway EPA number, there are three more who haven't broken 30 yet. So many factors affect how much fuel a car needs—tires, road surfaces, temperature, driving style, driving conditions, elevation and atmospheric pressure, grade of fuel, and break-in of the engine, to name a few—it's extremely difficult to come up with a widely applicable mileage estimate. We assume that Ford, like most automakers, to a certain extent "games" the EPA tests—they ensure their cars can meet certain parameters of the test even if those don't have the biggest impact on real-world fuel economy. That's a problem with the EPA's regimen though, not a particular car company. Altogether, these are strong reasons to scrap the EPA fuel-economy estimations altogether. Until then, if the C-Max hybrid or the Hyundai Sonata are indeed rated at 47 miles per gallon on the EPA test cycle, the companies should be allowed to say so.

Lawsuits for Everybody!

At the point where so many automakers advertise heavily their EPA-estimated fuel-economy numbers, they're nearly all exposed to similar lawsuits. How similar? The firm representing Ford owners left behind a reference to Hyundai in the brief it filed last week, a vestigial hangover from when the firm used the same text in a suit against Hyundai earlier this year. Most lawyers reuse pieces of litigation briefs, especially the boilerplate you see above—it's the norm and it's considered ethical—but it underscores just how much overlap we're seeing in suits against carmakers.

One-hundred bucks was the cash payback for Honda owners included in a class-action suit settled last spring, who could also opt for a $1000 discount on a new Honda. (The plaintiffs' attorneys scraped up $8 million in that settlement.) Typically, people who bought these cars see little more money. The benefit of class-action lawsuits in general, we hope, is that companies are punished for wrongdoing and deterred from taking advantage of people—particularly for amounts of money it's otherwise not worthwhile to fight. There will definitely be some deterrent action as a result of this latest California Gold Rush of plaintiffs' suits; perhaps carmakers will more-carefully word their advertising, or add stickers to showroom cars saying "You won't match the EPA estimates." But at the end of the day, we've got an EPA system that delivers unrealistic numbers, and an EPA that is on this topic almost impossible to sue.

from Car and Driver Blog

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Retro Wheels on Modern Rides: Torq-Thrust, BBS Super RS, Fuchs, Minilite

Remastered Classics: Retro Wheels on Modern Rides

First came retro cars; now wheel companies are mining the past for legendary designs, too. Though these new rims may look just like their ancestors, they've grown in size over the years,  just as cars have. We chose four retro wheels and put them on what we deemed to be their modern automotive counterparts. The guy in these photos actually is from the '70s. READ MORE ››

from Car and Driver Blog

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2013 Cadillac XTS AWD Tested: Stylish, and Roomy, but Infotainment-Challenged

2013 Cadillac XTS AWD Platinum

Forget both the snoozer STS and the phlegmatic DTS, as the XTS sits atop the Cadillac lineup as the brand's new flagship. (Well, at least until the Mercedes S-class-targeting, über-luxury rear-drive sedan based on the upcoming Omega platform arrives a few years down the road.) Sporting the latest interpretation of Cadillac's Art and Science design theme, the XTS looks like a CTS in a Big & Tall suit. READ MORE ››

from Car and Driver Blog

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Maserati Product Plans Through 2015, Proposed Price Points Appear Online

Maserati is in the midst of revamping its lineup and adding new models in order to become a full-line luxury automaker by 2015, and now the company's plan for all of this has appeared online, first showing up at Carscoop. We already knew Maserati plans to augment its GranTurismo grand tourer and all-new 2014 Quattroporte flagship sedan with a smaller four-door (the Ghibli) and an SUV called the Levante, so what the leaked document does reveal is how this new lineup will come together. 

The image above appears to have be an internal Maserati presentation slide, much like recently leaked Alfa Romeo plans that made their way onto the interwebs. No specific timing for each model is given, but we know Maserati intends to add the Ghibli and Levante before 2015. (The company is hoping the new and redesigned models will bring global annual sales up to the 50,000-mark. What is shown on the slide is Maserati's proposed price points for each new model in Euros—don't worry, we'll convert those figures to American for you. The Quattroporte sedan and GranTurismo lineup will span from just over $100,000 to close to $200,000, while the new Ghibli will occupy the space between $70,000 and $100,000. The Levante SUV will get a slightly wider—and higher—price spread between roughly $80,000 and $150,000.

Not mentioned on this slide is the brand's proposed small crossover, which presumably would occupy the space below the Ghibli in Maserati's lineup. We don't expect this compact SUV to arrive sooner than 2015, which would explain its absence from these product plans, which appear to cover Maserati's product offensive between now and 2015.

from Car and Driver Blog

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F1 2012: More Champions, More Modes, More Fun for Everyone [Video Game Review]

Formula 1 has trouble leaving well enough alone. It constantly adjusts the rules, keeping engineers, drivers, and team principals on their toes—but the payoff is that it keeps fans glued to the television. The introduction of rules, circumventing of those rules, and engineering around the subsequent regulations is what keeps F1 so fresh year after year. While those changes make viewing the series a must for race fans, those sorts of changes aren't going to be enough to keep virtual racers coming back for the latest iteration of Codemasters' F1 franchise. (You mean you didn't camp out for F1 2012 solely to drive the Mercedes AMG W03 with its double DRS?) So Codemasters took it upon itself to infuse a few new ideas of their own into its latest edition of its F1 video game, which was released a few weeks ago. (This review covers the PS3 version; the game is also available for Xbox, PC, and Mac.)

More Options Than an F1 Steering Wheel

Upon popping in the game, you're thrust into one of F1 2012's newest modes—the Young Drivers Test. It's at this annual season-ending test at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi where you're taught vehicle dynamics, acceleration, braking, cornering, and overtaking, as well as how to maximize the use of systems such as KERS and DRS. For the fanboys, what's perhaps most interesting is the names of the drivers you're training alongside—American Alexander Rossi, among many other real-life up-and-coming drivers, makes an appearance testing for Lotus. Aside from teaching newcomers to the franchise the basics, the level of success achieved in the test determines which teams will offer you a seat in Career mode. Do poorly or skip the test altogether and you'll wind up with HRT or Marussia; do well and seats will open at Caterham, Toro Rosso, and Williams.

Career mode is largely unchanged from F1 2011 and F1 2010, while Season Challenge offers the same challenge of progression in the F1 paddock as does Career, but in a much more compacted time frame. One detail we welcomed in Season Challenge was the new Rival feature. Choose your rival, beat him, and you get his seat. This is much preferred to previous iterations' method, where your responses in media interviews determined your rival and your ability to beat him in the championship standings determined which teams offered you a contract the following season.

Another new feature for 2012 is the Proving Grounds section, which features Champions mode, Time Attack, and Time Trial. Time Trial allows you to race against a ghost car representing your personal best time, and delivers opportunities to return to the garage to optimize setups. Time Attack dangles bronze, silver, and gold carrots out in front of you, coaxing you to improve your performance through each sector. Champions mode drops you late into the race, and pits you against on of the six world champions from the 2012 grid (Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Räikkönen, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, and Sebastian Vettel). Depending on the scenario, you need to either hold one of them off for the checkered flag, or overtake before the allotted number of laps runs out.

Also new to 2012 is the Co-Op Championship, which allows you and an online friend to compete in a season-long challenge as teammates. How you handle team orders is your business. The rest of the online modes are largely familiar from the previous two titles. One thing we found slightly disheartening was the random assignment of cars in this mode. You want to drive a Ferrari? That's unfortunate, because you're getting a Force India. The good news is that the pros and cons of each car's performance are leveled and there is parity among all cars, from the Red Bulls to the HRTs. As we found last year, there are a number of online players who have a bit of Pastor Maldonado in them—or to put it another way, subscribe to the "rubbing is racing" school of thought. But if you're quick enough to pull away, such childish theatrics are no longer a concern.

Gameplay and Graphics

For the most part, the behavior of the cars and AI is just about the same as the previous editions. When using the handheld controller (we played on the PS3), the cars feel as twitchy and nervous as ever, and the watchful eye of the computer keeps track of every collision caused and every time a wheel is placed off the track. The computer's sense of justice knows no shades of gray, which grows frustrating after a period of time. Penalties are issued for putting four wheels off the course, even if an advantage isn't gained or if you give back any places you picked up by your actions. Real-life stewards may be inconsistent in their punishments, but we'd prefer that to the iron fist with which the computer rules the F1 franchise.

Like the gameplay, F1 2012's graphics aren't much different from last year's. One thing we did notice is a tendency for the game to lag slightly on race starts, even when playing offline. The lag wasn't disruptive enough to cause collisions, but enough to force you to take notice. One disappointment from past years that carries over is the lack of detail for intricate items like sponsor decals, helmet designs, and driver equipment when viewed up close. During the natural course of the game, these graphics all look positively stunning, but during replays or animated sequences, most details appear extremely pixelated.

The Takeaway

With F1 2012's new game modes, it's apparent that Codemasters has made an effort to appeal to a wider audience and move somewhat away from the hard-core F1 fan. But as an astute follower of the series and as someone who drives cars for a living, this author found mastering car control something of a serious challenge, which makes us wonder just how many casual fans F1 2012 really can attract. And considering how the broad appeal of titles like Gran Turismo 5 and Forza 4, as well as the more arcade-like Dirt 3 and Forza Horizon, we're not quite sure any iteration of F1 will ever be an option for the casual gamer. But for those who understand the sport and appreciate the intricacies that come along with it, F1 2012 largely delivers what they crave.

from Car and Driver Blog

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Illinois Driver's Ed Law Influenced by Goes into Effect Jan. 1

Photo Courtesy of Chicago Tribune

In 2011, and the Chicago Tribune teamed up to investigate the safety of cars driven by Chicago-area teens in driver's education programs. The report unveiled vehicles with sub-par safety ratings and virtually no regulation for what students drive while learning the rules of the road. State Sen. Susan Garrett took notice and sponsored a new law that sets standards for vehicles used in Illinois' driver's ed programs.
The new law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2013, and you can click below to see a recap of the investigation as well as the new requirements for schools and driver's education programs.   
Illinois Passes Stricter Driver Ed Rules After Investigation
It's 10 a.m.: Do You Know What Car Your Kid is Driving? 

from KickingTires

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2013 Ford Fusion Energi Plug-In Hybrid EPA-Certified, Earns 100 MPGe Combined Rating

2013 Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid

Ford has announced fuel-economy figures for the 2013 Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid, which goes on sale in January, and the sedan's EPA ratings vault it to the top of the plug-in-hybrid sedan fuel-efficiency heap. Granted, that heap is pretty short—it currently includes just the Toyota Prius plug-in, the Chevrolet Volt, the Fisker Karma, and Ford's own C-Max Energi—but the Fusion Energi's 100-MPGe (miles-per-gallon of gas equivalent) combined rating nonetheless grants Ford efficiency bragging rights for the time being.

Ford's Energi sedan's other economy figures are 108 MPGe in the city and 92 on the highway, and all three numbers mirror those of the C-Max Energi. There, as they say, lies the rub, of course—Ford is being dragged into the spotlight over the veracity of the impressive fuel-economy claims for its C-Max hybrid (the non-plug-in C-Max variant) and Fusion hybrid. That's not to say the Fusion Energi's numbers are false or misleading, but it shares its powertrain with the cordless Fusion hybrid and the C-Max twins, so Ford's claims for its hybrids could all soon fall under question. For reference, Toyota's Prius plug-in is rated for 95 MPGe combined; the Chevy Volt is good for 98 (its numbers were increased for 2013); and the Fisker Karma musters just 54.

Against the segment's most-visible player, the Chevrolet Volt, the Fusion Energi brings more than just a higher MPGe figure—it's slightly less expensive, to boot. The Ford starts at $39,495, $500 less than the Volt; the Chevy wins in electric-only range, however, with a 38-mile rating for electric-only running to the Fusion Energi's roughly-20-mile gas-free operating radius.

from Car and Driver Blog

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Mercedes-AMG Developing Twin-Turbo 4.0-Liter V-8 for Next-Gen C63 and SLS Replacement

Mercedes-AMG's M156 ad M159, the naturally aspirated 6.2-liter V-8 that powers the SLS and the C63, won't be around for much longer.

Insiders close to Mercedes-Benz have confirmed a report by Autocar claiming that the AMG version of the next-generation C-class and the successor to the SLS will be powered by a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8. Car and Driver can further reveal that the engine, code-named M177, will produce between 460 and 500 hp in the next-gen C—which will come to market in 2015. For use in the SLS's replacement, which is set for a 2016 launch, the powerplant will be referred to as M178 and will produce in the region of 590 hp.

This news spells the end for the legendary M156/M159 6.2-liter V-8, a naturally aspirated mill designed by Bernd Ramler, an engineer who was deeply involved in the conception of the 604-hp, 5.7-liter V-1o that powered the Porsche Carrera GT. The M177/M178 also could eventually replace the M157—the twin-turbo 5.5-liter V-8 that currently powers the entirety of AMG's lineup outside the SLS, the C63, and the SLK55. The SLK55 AMG's naturally aspirated 5.5-liter V-8—code-named M152—also is set to be replaced, and the new 4.0-liter turbo would be the likeliest of successors.

What happens to the nomenclature of the new models isn't known yet. We believe that the misleading "63″ moniker applied to all V-8–powered AMG models—with the exception of the SLK55—will remain. It's also possible AMG could adopt "60″ as the new handle for its V-8s. A displacement-appropriate name of "40″ is out of the question with the introduction of the A45 and upcoming CLA45, both of which will be powered by a high-output 2.0-liter turbo four.

With the new engine, AMG will offer a displacement identical to Audi's twin-turbo V-8, which powers several S and RS versions and the Bentley Continental GT V-8. Although Mercedes will have cut 2200 cubic centimeters from its C63, that car's direct competition in BMW's next-gen M3 and M4 as well as Cadillac's upcoming ATS-V will be powered by turbocharged six-cylinders—further proof that the more-horses-from-fewer-cubes war rages on.

from Car and Driver Blog

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Monday Mileage Champion: The Year In Review

It's time to make a confession to the good folks at TTAC.

The mileage game is rigged.

How so? Well, approximately two-thirds of the vehicles that reach the 300k+ mark  at an auction I attend will usually belong in one of four categories.

Ford truck or SUV.  Chevy truck or SUV. Honda car. Toyota everything.

There you have it. Nearly two thirds of the vehicles that I see with serious high mileage credentials will belong in one of those four categories.

Yes I do see the occasional V8, rear-wheel-drive Ford car. Nissan seems to do well with their mostly -90′s Altimas, 10+ year old Maximas,  and their wonderful small trucks. A few Jeeps and Cummins diesel trucks also fly into the high mileage radar.

But everyone else? Just little glimpses every now and then.

The old school German machinery will sometimes score a 300k+ model with a level of maintenance receipts that could do damage to your next door neighbor's window.

VW does well with the TDI, the too slow 2.0, and nothing else. Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover, SAAB, and Volvo have become a big fuhgeddaboudit for our weekly mileage contest. Volvo would probably field a few 300k vehicles if the odometers on all their 1990′s models didn't break with a near 100% level of consistency.

In my experiences, Subarus can get close to 300k, But they will often  have massive oil leaks and repair records that will rival the Germans.

Mitsubishi makes some decent cars as does Mazda. But the former are almost always eventually skirted away to the abuse oriented rental fleets and buy-here pay-here lots. While Mazda suffers from a nasty long era where many of their automatic transmissions simply did not hold up.

Then we have Chrysler. The 2.7 Liter engines rarely makes it past 120k miles and are virtually non-existent at the auto recycling centers. Even though they made millions of them, you may as well be asking the guy at the junkyard counter for a 20 year old Peugeot with a dancing unicorn on top of it.

The 3.7 Liter and 4.7 Liter engines are also becoming increasingly expensive due to sludge issues and the fact that they're difficult to rebuild. Chrysler transmissions for their minivans are also becoming a rarer sight. Although they are far easier to rebuild.

Finally, it seems that Chrysler could never design certain basic parts that were worth a flip throughout the last two decades.

For a while at the auctions, I began to think that Chrysler engineered a whining noise into all the power steering pumps in their minivans and differentials in their luxury Jeeps. Chrysler wouldn't even arbitrate certain Jeeps for differential noise back in the mid-2000′s.

However, a Dodge truck with a Cummins diesel remains a recipe for success, and the Hemi engine seems to be long lasting along with the old 5.2 Liter 318 engine and the 4.0 Liter inline-six.

Finally we are back at GM and Ford, again. I will give special kudos to the GM 3.8 Liter V6 and the Ford Vulcan V6. The former was a marvel for the time. While the later represents the ultimate in amortization costs and continuous improvement. Everything else ranges from above average (GM 2.2 Liter engines and early non-plastic intake 3.1 Liter engines), to problematic (Ford 3.8 Liter engines, GM 3.4 Liter V6 models, Northstar V8′s.)

Sometimes these issues had to do with the overuse of cheap plastic in the engine bay and coolants that gel up. While other times it has more to do with basic bad design (Saturn and Freestar CVT transmissions) and planned obsolescence (Aveos, Neons, PT Cruisers, last-gen Festivas, last-gen Metros).

I expect that the Koreans will likely join the fray of 300k+ in the coming years. But a lot of just plain bad Hyundais and Kias were made until recent times. I can't recall a single model from either brand with a notably high mileage at the auctions.

As for the Honda Accord with 403,817 miles? It was followed by a Toyota Tacoma, an Acura TL, and a Ford Explorer. All with over 390,000 miles. The durability quartet took 8 of the top 10 spots and 22 of the first 30.

Not bad… and not unusual at all.


from The Truth About Cars

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Happy New Year From The TTAC Crew

The gang at TTAC wishes all its readers a happy and prosperous New Year. May it bring you all the new cars you wish, and may it have mercy on your old ones.

For those who are keeping track of my movements: This is reaching you from China where it is Western New Year,  12 hours ahead of the East Coast,  and where it won't be official New Year until February 10th. A week from now, the Schmitts will change their location to Tokyo, where it is New Year an hour ahead of Western New Year in China. Are we confused yet?

Let's make this a TTAC New Year around the world … if you have nothing better to do.

We are enjoying our mini bridge here at TTAC, and will be back in full force on January 2nd.



from The Truth About Cars

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Why Does Infiniti Think It’s Cool to Show Adults Being Mean and Irresponsible? [The Ad Section]

Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad's rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.

Two years ago, Infiniti launched an inane campaign involving two neighbors, their sons, and snowballs. In one spot, the first father is a Pee Wee Herman–looking twit who wears a nerdy coat and drives a BMW. His sons look like Tweedledee and Tweedledum. All three appear to be nasty little buggers and we're supposed to hate them. The other dad is cool. His name is Dave. Looks like he would hang out with Owen Wilson or Christian Bale. We never really see his son, but he's probably cool by extension. His wife is probably hot, too. Dave drives a G37 sedan, but he looks like he should drive an Audi RS5. He's that awesome. We don't just like Dave—we want to be Dave.

Until we discover that he's a bigger jerk than the BMW twit. Here's why: When the spot opens, the Bimmer kids unleash a barrage of snowballs on poor Dave, who did nothing to deserve this other than be cool. Pee Wee not only approves of this boorish behavior, he probably orchestrated it. He then throws down an implied gauntlet, "See you at work," knowing full well that a fast and furious road race to the office will ensue. I guess we're supposed to wonder who will win as they tear downhill from their plush ski resort neighborhood, but—wait, what's this? Dave pulls to the side of the road and makes a snowball, which he strategically aligns before launching it down the mountain. He then resumes the race, barely dodging the ever-growing snowball (which by now looks like it escaped from Raiders of the Lost Ark) as it hurls itself over switchbacks and bridges without regard for life, limb, or property.

By the time Dave arrives in town, the BMW is safely parked in a prime spot between two buildings. He pulls up ahead of the space and waits a beat as the Ball-O-Destruction smashes broadside into the 3-series and obliterates it, leaving more than enough curbside for Dave to park his G.

So what, exactly, are they trying to tell us? The voiceover says absolutely nothing about the car or its attributes, and the product shots only serve to confirm that the car hasn't changed in years. But the campaign must appeal to someone, or they wouldn't keep running it year after year, right?

Here's who it appeals to: haters. In advertising, this is called the transfer effect. The idea is to transfer viewers' feelings about something—for example, patriotism—to the product being sold. That's what Chevy did with their old (and now new again) baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie campaign. Done right, it's a beautiful thing. In Infiniti's case, not so much. Clearly, Dave's mantra is, why settle for mere revenge when you can choose annihilation? Especially when the guy you've got it in for drives a BMW. (A BMW! What a freakin' snob! Thinks he's better than everyone else! I'll show him!) Never mind that he's my next-door neighbor and co-worker, his kids threw snowballs at me and so he deserves to have his car trashed. And so what if the occasional skier or innocent bystander gets put in harm's way? That's simply collateral damage. The point is that I won, right?

1st GearSadly, there must be enough car buyers out there who agree with this sentiment: Infiniti and their ad agency are way too sophisticated to spend millions of dollars on a campaign without at least focus-group testing it for red flags. Sadder yet is that both fathers have turned this into a teachable moment for their children. Based on these commercials, it's not hard to visualize this dinner table conversation:

Dave: So how was your day?
Son: The Bimmer family's poodle crapped on our lawn.
Dave: So what'd you do about it?
Son: I poisoned the effer and set their house on fire.
Dave: Good boy! When you're old enough, I'll get you an Infiniti.
Have a nice day.

from Car and Driver Blog

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