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Monday, March 5, 2012

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Big sales for small cars in February By Tom Krisher and Dee-Ann Durbin The Associated Press

DETROIT — Small cars sold big in February. With gasoline prices spiking 30 cents last month, demand soared for compact cars like the Focus and Civic. That lifted U.S. sales for Ford, Honda and other major automakers that reported February sales on Thursday. Gasoline — which now averages $3.74 per gallon — has sent more buyers looking for fuel-efficient vehicles. Erich Merkle, Ford’s top U.S. sales analyst, says small cars made up around 19 percent of industry sales in December. That rose to 21 percent in January and could go as high as 24 percent in February, once final sales are tallied. Other trends are also helping sales. The average car on U.S. roads is now a record 10.8 years old, so there is an increasing need to replace older vehicles. Credit availability is improving, bringing more people back into the market. Japanese automakers have largely recovered from last year’s earthquake and now have more cars to sell. And consumer confidence rose dramatically in February, making people more likely to consider a big-ticket purchase. That could add up to a third straight year of improving sales for the industry. Sales bottomed in 2009 during the financial crisis, but rose the next two years. January started strong as sales hit an annual rate of 14.2 million. That pace could accelerate in February. Toy-

Gas prices boosting sales of more efficient cars By Alisa Priddle Detroit Free Press

DaviD Zalubowski/The associaTeD Press

This photo shows the Volkswagen logo on the hood of a 2012 Beetle at a Volkswagen dealership in the south Denver suburb of Littleton, Colo. Chrysler, Nissan and Volkswagen all reported strong U.S. sales in February, kicking off what is expected to be another strong month for automakers. ota’s U.S. sales chief projected that it could hit 15 million, the best in almost four years. Last year’s sales reached 12.8 million. Big winners last month were Volkswagen and Chrysler. Volkswagen sales rose 42 percent, led by the redesigned Passat midsize sedan. Chrysler sales jumped 40 percent. The tiny Fiat 500 had its best month ever, but sales were strong across the company’s lineup. Ram pickup sales climbed 21 percent. And sales

of the Chrysler 200 midsize sedan more than quadrupled from a year earlier. Ford sales rose 14 percent, mostly on demand for the Focus. Its sales more than doubled to 23,350, making it the best February for the car in 12 years. Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. each showed further signs of recovering from last year’s model shortages caused by the March earthquake in Japan. Toyota sales rose 12.4 percent, while

Honda was up 12.3 percent. Honda’s Civic compact was up almost 42 percent to more than 27,000 vehicles. It likely was the top-selling compact last month. At GM, sales of the Chevrolet Cruze compact rose 10 percent to top 20,000 for the month, while the new Chevy Sonic subcompact saw its best sales month ever at almost 8,000. The strength of those sales helped General Motors, which was expected to see sales drop. Instead, it eked

out a 1 percent increase. Consumers continued to pay higher prices for cars in February, mainly because they’re buying well-equipped small cars, according to the TrueCar. com automotive website. Vehicles sold for an average of $30,605 last month, up almost 7 percent from a year earlier, TrueCar said. Nissan Motor Co. and Hyundai each reported record February sales. Nissan was up 15.5 percent, while Hyundai rose 17.5 percent.

DETROIT — Rising gasoline prices already are having an impact on car sales with consumers switching to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, said Ford Motor Co. sales analyst Erich Merkle. “The price of gas has risen dramatically. We saw some increase in January but it really accelerated in February and it has had a dramatic impact on the types of vehicles people are looking for,” Merkle said. Sales of the Ford Focus compact car are about double where they were a year ago and the small-car segment as a whole represents a larger percentage of the total market, Merkle said. Ford, General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC all say they are better prepared to weather high fuel prices with product lineups that include a larger selection of attractive small cars, crossovers in place of SUVs and more efficient engine choices. “Four or five years ago (current high gas prices) would have been a detriment to us but we’ve done a lot of work to diversify,” Merkle said. “We’re in the best position Ford has ever been in.” And while consumers are changing their buying patterns, there are no signs of panic yet. “We are not seeing irratioSee GAS, Page 2


Page 2 / Monday, March 5, 2012

Gas From Page 1

nal behavior yet at this point,” Merkle said, referring to past oil crises when people were abandoning their gas-guzzling SUVs — many of them Explorers — for small cars. February U.S. auto sales, released Thursday, showed the Ford Focus compact car had its best results in more than a decade. And the car that had a bit of a rocky sales start when it debuted last year saw sales double from the same month a year ago and is proving crucial in efforts to increase market share. Merkle said the gains are not seasonal — small cars tend to sell well in the spring. Industry-wide, the small car segment in February could exceed 23 percent of total share, up from about 19 percent last year and 20 percent to 21 percent in January. “In recent memory, 23 percent-24 percent is the highest it has ever been,” Merkle said, excluding the boost artificially created by the Cash for Clunkers government incentive program in 2009. Switching to more car sales from profitable trucks and SUVs should not hurt Ford’s bottom line. Merkle said the automaker’s average transaction price is $1,000 higher than a year earlier because many consumers are buying more-expensive trim levels. And pickups, while lower than they were in December and January, are still strong. Long gone is the old Explorer SUV that got 17 mpg, replaced by a hot-selling carbased Explorer that gets up to 28 mpg with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Overall, “sales are robust again,” Merkle said. February sales for the industry are expected to be strong — pacing at a 14.5 million annual sales rate — which would be the fifth month of improvements. But Ford has not changed its overall forecast of 2012 sales in the 13.5 million to 14.5 million range, including medium- and heavyduty trucks.

Tallahassee Democrat / OnTheMOve

Detroit races to keep up with sales By Tom Krisher The Associated Press

DETROIT — Auto sales are growing so fast that Detroit can barely keep up. Three years after the U.S. auto industry nearly collapsed, sales of cars and trucks are surging. Sales could exceed 14 million this year, above last year’s 12.8 million. The result: Carmakers are adding shifts and hiring thousands of workers around the country. Carmakers and parts companies added more than 38,000 jobs last year, reaching a total of 717,000. And automakers have announced plans to add another 13,000 this year, mostly on night shifts. But there’s a downside. The newfound success is straining the factory network of the Detroit automakers, as well as the companies that make the thousands of parts that go into each vehicle. This could lead to shortages that drive up prices. And it also has auto executives in a quandary. They got into trouble in the first place largely because their costs were too high. Now, they fear adding too many workers. Ford, for instance, is “squeezing every last component, transmission, engine

out of the existing brick and mortar,” says Jim Tetreault, vice president of North America manufacturing. Still, the surge in hiring bolsters the argument of those who supported the federal bailout of General Motors and Chrysler in 2008. The bailout has been a major issue in the days leading up to the Michigan Republican Party primary this Tuesday. GOP front runner Mitt Romney opposed the bailout, which was supported by then-President George W. Bush and later by President Barack Obama. And the hiring is good news for communities around the country that saw hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs disappear. Starting in 2005, GM, Ford and Chrysler closed 28 factories and eliminated 88,000 jobs. Parts companies cut another 234,000. Now, if sales hit 15 million by 2015, as some experts predict, the three Detroit automakers could hire another 20,000 people, predicts Sean McAlinden, chief economist for the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. “You can only squeeze so much out of the same amount of people,” says Itay Michaeli, an auto analyst at Citi Investment Research. Laurie Schmald Mon-

crieff, president of a small parts-manufacturing company near Flint, Mich., says when demand for auto parts collapsed, she shifted production to parts for companies in green energy, aerospace and defense. Now, automakers and other parts suppliers have her on speed dial, trying to line up everything from fuel pump parts to tools that make hoses. She just added six workers and may hire another five. “I see tremendous growth coming in the near-term,” she says. Yet like many parts suppliers, she’s having trouble finding people with the skills to run machinery in her plant. The hiring binge couldn’t have happened at a better time for Michigan. Many of the new auto jobs came around the Great Lakes where the Detroit Three have most of their factories. New jobs with auto companies don’t pay as well as the old ones. Under union contracts, companies can pay new hires around $16 per hour, a little more than half the pay of longtime workers. But in a state where unemployment was above 14 percent just three years ago, any jobs are welcome. And Michigan is not the only region to benefit. Ford is adding posi-

tions in Louisville, Ky., Chicago and near Kansas City, Mo. Chrysler is adding jobs in Belvidere, Ill., and General Motors is hiring at plants in Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas and New York. Foreign carmakers are also shifting production to the U.S. because of higher sales and the weak dollar, which cuts the profits they get from selling vehicles exported to America. Nissan is adding workers in Tennessee. Toyota just hired staff at a new plant in Blue Springs, Miss. Honda is hiring in Alabama and Ohio. Hyundai and Kia plants in Alabama and Georgia are running flat-out but can’t meet demand for some models such as the Hyundai Sonata and Elantra. The sales rebound comes with risks that are familiar to Detroit. Crank up production too much and carmakers have to sell vehicles at deep discounts. Boost production too little, and companies could run short of vehicles such as pickup trucks. And even if they find the right balance now, automakers are leery of raising long-term costs by adding plants and workers. Six years ago, Detroit’s automakers were losing billions, in part because they had too many plants and workers. And union contracts forced

them to pay workers even if plants were shut down. So automakers kept the factories running regardless of whether vehicles would sell in order to cover expenses. They built too many cars and trucks and sold them cheap, sometimes at a loss. Now, they’re doing everything they can to keep costs under control. Growth is putting the squeeze on Hyundai and Kia factories. But the affiliated companies will build as many vehicles as possible at two U.S. plants before constructing a new factory. John Krafcik, Hyundai’s U.S. CEO, says the first choice is to find areas inside the plants that are slowing the assembly lines and fix them, “because plants are expensive.” GM also will try to handle growth by stretching factories, says North American President Mark Reuss. But he thinks the company will have to hire more workers if sales this year reach 13.5 million or beyond. Auto factories in North America will reach 90 percent of their capacity if sales hit 14 million, says Michael Robinet, managing director of IHS Automotive Consulting, which forecasts auto production.

California bill would set rules for self-driving cars By Jerry Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — California lawmakers are starting to get ready for a new automotive era, during which the first self-driving cars will hit the roads. California state Sen. Alex Padilla last week introduced SB1298, which would establish guidelines for such “autonomous vehicles” to be tested and operated in California.

Tech giant Google Inc., Caltech and other organizations have been working to develop such vehicles, which use radar, video cameras and lasers to navigate roads and stay safe in traffic without human assistance. Google has said that computer-controlled cars should eventually drive more safely than humans, who, after all, get sleepy and distracted and can’t see in every direction at once. Padilla, who spent Wednes-

day riding in one of Google’s automated vehicles, agrees. “The vast majority of accidents are due to human error. Autonomous vehicles have the potential to reduce traffic fatalities and improve safety on our roads and highways,” Padilla said. “California is uniquely positioned to be the leader in the deployment of autonomous technology.” If approved, his legislation would direct the California Highway Patrol to

develop standards and performance requirements for the safe testing and operation of autonomous vehicles on the state’s roads and highways. In June, Nevada became the first state to legalize selfdriving cars. Arizona, Florida, Hawaii and Oklahoma are considering legislation regarding autonomous vehicles. Last summer, a Toyota Prius equipped for automat-

ed driving was involved in a fender-bender near Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. But that wasn’t the first recorded crash of an autonomously driven vehicle: It was being operated by a human at the time. Self-driving cars must legally have a person at the wheel, ready to assume control if anything goes wrong. The driver didn’t seem to be a good backup plan in this case.


Monday, March 5, 2012 / Page 3

OnTheMOve / Tallahassee Democrat

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Tallahassee Democrat / OnTheMOve

GM takes big gamble with Malibu Eco

Monday, March 5, 2012 / Page 5

OnTheMOve / Tallahassee Democrat

Batmobiles, Bond cars and more “I’ve lived in Dezerland all my life. It’s time to share it with the public.”

By Hannah Sampson By Mark Phelan Detroit Free Press

Chevrolet is embarking on a high-risk, high-reward strategy as it launches the new 2013 Malibu midsize sedan soon. Chevrolet pulled production of the important new family sedan forward by nearly seven months to get a jump on key competitors, including the new Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. That head start, however, could be a bit of a gamble: Will Chevrolet win buyers with the newer, better and more fuel-efficient car? Or will mainstream shoppers dismiss the 2013 Malibu Eco model as too rich for their blood, priced as much as $5,000 more than some competitors’ base models? Also, with only the Malibu Eco model available until late summer or early fall, Chevy dealers will be at a cost disadvantage of several thousand dollars. Could that paint all 2013 Malibu models, even the less-costly base model when it comes out later in the year, as too expensive? The base model’s engine won’t be ready for production until the summer. It’s a billion-dollar bet for GM, which needs to sell at least a couple of hundred thousand Malibus annually once the full model line is in production at assembly plants in Kansas and Michigan. GM CEO Dan Akerson believes it’s worth the risk to get a lead on the competition with their launches this fall of several sedans in the fall. The launch date this month for the Malibu Eco was set early last year. Chevy’s marketing team has been plotting a two-stage launch since then. “All the major midsize cars are being replaced” within a few weeks this fall, said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst with Edmunds.com. “It’s a barrage of important vehicles with big advertising

Chevrolet/MCt

The Chevrolet Malibu Eco uses a mild hybrid system to score impressive EPA fuel economy ratings of 25 mpg in the city, 37 on the highway and 29 in combined driving, easily topping competitors, including the Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry. budgets. It’s a major challenge for an automaker to break through the clutter and be heard. Pulling the Malibu forward puts Chevrolet in a sandwich period by itself” between last year’s advertising blitz for the new Camry and the saturation campaigns Ford, Honda and Nissan will mount this fall. Accelerating the launch of the Eco model was Akerson’s first hands-on product decision as GM CEO and chairman. The car’s striking design caught his eye during his first review of upcoming

vehicles with design chief Ed Welburn at GM’s Tech Center in Warren, Mich., in November 2010. He immediately asked GM North America President Mark Reuss about the car, focusing on when the Malibu and its key competitors would reach the market. With the full-speed-ahead style that distinguishes the former Navy officer’s leadership, Akerson immediately asked if the car could hit the market sooner than its planned fall launch. The Malibu engineering,

manufacturing and marketing team worked around the clock for six weeks and came up with a plan: The Malibu Eco could hit the market in February 2012, a nearly unprecedented six months ahead of schedule, months before the competition. Akerson signed off on the plan around the time of the Detroit auto show in January 2010. “It’s a very competitive market. All the other new models arrive at about the same time” this fall, said Russ Clark, Chevrolet direc-

tor of midsize and performance car marketing. “We saw a window from February to July when we could get the message about the new Malibu out. We want people to know the new Malibu is there, that it’s a nice car and there’s more coming. ... The challenges are that we will not have the whole model line yet, and the higher price point.” The Malibu Eco uses a mild hybrid system to score impressive EPA fuel economy ratings of 25 mpg in the city, 37 on the highway and 29 in

combined driving. That easily tops competitors including the Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry. Prices for the Malibu Eco start at $25,235, excluding destination charges. That’s $3,240 above the least expensive 2012 Malibu, which Chevy will keep building until this summer. And it’s as much as $5,440 higher than the base models of other leading midsize sedans. It’s a well-equipped car, with a new voice-recognition system, eight standard air bags and the electric system that boosts fuel economy. It costs a bit less than more fuel-efficient full-hybrid and diesel competitors. “The price point is definitely high,” said analyst Rebecca Lindland of IHS Automotive. “It’ll price some customers out, but probably not too many. The people who are shopping for cars now have money, and they’re looking for value — well-equipped cars they intend to keep for years. “Chevrolet should reach out to owners of the bestequipped current Malibus. They’ll understand this is a car with an engine that saves them money.” Chevrolet will keep building the old Malibu through this summer, said Clark. By fall, the full model line of the 2013 car will arrive, complete with a base model priced to compete head-tohead on price with the leastexpensive competitors. “We’ll build some critical mass with a campaign that tells people the new Malibu is here and focuses on key markets like the Northeast corridor, the West Coast and Miami,” Clark said. “Those markets pose a special challenge to domestic brands, but they’re markets where the Malibu Eco’s technology, styling and fuel economy give us a chance to make major inroads.”

McClatchy Newspapers

MIAMI — Holy warehouse district, Batman! What are your Batmobiles doing here? And that DeLorean from “Back to the Future.” And Magnum, P.I.’s red Ferrari. And James Bond’s arsenal of cars, helicopters and submarines. Not to mention the multiple miniature carousels, jukeboxes, bicycles, mopeds and micro-cars. Real estate developer — and extraordinarily prolific collector — Michael Dezer knows the answer. “I am,” said the 70-yearold, “a collector of collections.” After decades of accumulating, he’s brought the whole collection of collections together in more than 250,000 square feet of brightly painted, broadly themed warehouses in North Miami to display publicly. The showcase opened to the public last week. Divided into two buildings, which each cost $25 to tour, the museum boasts more than 1,000 pieces, including at least 600 cars. “Cars of the Stars,” featuring vehicles that appeared on the big and small screens, will be most recognizable. But car buffs can also explore American oldies, European classics, bikes, motorcycles, electric cars, micro cars, military vehicles and — starting in April — a James Bond wing valued at $15 million. Dezer opened a dealership in Las Vegas last year and plans to open a second museum there later this year; eventually, he intends to rotate vehicles between the two collections. There’s also an on-site art gallery, which opened late last year with two exhibitions: one dedicated to the work of former model and photographer Bunny Yeager and another featuring art that originated in Berlin. Future plans include a wax museum and outdoor drive-in theater.

MicHael Dezer Owner, Dezer Museum and Pavilion

Photos by Deeba yavrom/miami heralD/mCt

At top, a 1940 Graham Hollywood, left, and a 1937 Cord 812 Beverly are on display at the Dezer Museum and Pavilion on Feb. 14 in North Miami Beach. Above, a 1976 Mercedes Benz limousine featuring a heart-shaped hot tub in the rear is also on display. Batmobiles, James Bond cars and the “Back to the Future” DeLorean will be on view at the museum, a collection of more than 1,000 cars amassed by Michael Dezer over the past 50 years. Dezer, whose cellphone ringtone honks like a classic car’s horn (“aaaaahhhrooooo-gha”), previously kept some of the vehicles in a private collection at the Trump

International Beach Resort that he developed with son Gil in Sunny Isles Beach. Other of the family’s properties, including the Howard Johnson Plaza Dezerland Beach

& Spa in the northern part of Miami Beach, incorporate classic cars and ’50s themes in their design. “I’ve lived in Dezerland all my life,” Dezer said. “It’s time

to share it with the public.” He expects the museum to draw car fanatics, sure, but also baby boomers and families — and, he hopes, party planners.

Built with events in mind, the museum features a synagogue and several rooms that can host birthday parties, weddings, corporate events, bar or bat mitzvahs or circumcision rituals. An indoor “drive-in” theater with seats in old cars will be available for photo slideshows or videos of the honoree. When not in private use, the screen will show old Bond movies. Dezer doesn’t think the North Miami location — abutting railroad tracks west of Biscayne Boulevard and strip malls — will be a drawback to visitors. “Disney was nowhere, and it became a destination,” he said. “We are not that far from anywhere. We think we are in a great location. It’s an unusual location that you can have such a large building.” Just to make sure, the museum will send shuttle buses to Dezer-owned hotels and other lodgings, and will work with tourism offices, concierges, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and event coordinators to get the word out. The tourism bureau plans to promote the museum as part of Miami Museums Month in May and also as a local attraction and meeting venue. Rolando Aedo, the bureau’s chief marketing officer, said the museum gives tourism boosters something new to pitch. “This is yet another opportunity for staying in Miami and extending that trip by another half-day or day,” he said. “It’s further extending the visitor’s experience.”


Page 6 / Monday, March 5, 2012

Tallahassee Democrat / OnTheMOve

Auto review: Grand Cherokee SRT8 goes for power By Barry Spyker McClatchy Newspapers

At the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit, carmakers took bows with their car-like, increasingly fuel-conscious SUVs. But for those more i m p r e s s e d w i t h r a w, unashamed power, rugged off-road capabilities might like to know the muscular Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 is back with a vengeance — and it brought 470 horses with it. And one footnote that you tough guys can keep to yourself: Inside, it is more comfortable, refined and luxurious than ever. The new SRT8 is 2.4 inches taller, has a longer wheelbase and weighs in at 5,200 pounds. And it offers no apologies. Standard on Grand Cherokees is a 3.6-liter V-6 that does quite well with 290 hp. Bump up to a 5.7-liter you’re sitting behind 360 horses.

But the SRT8 (that stands for Street and Racing Technology, not Slow and Relaxed Travel) powers up with a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 that carries 470 hp and 465 poundfeet of torque. That’s 50 more horses than last year, and that’s a lot of thrust. It goes to all four wheels and surges the SRT8 to 60 mph in a mere 5 seconds, sweet though weird velocity for a 5,200-pound SUV. That tops much of the competition, but still leaves a challenge versus twin-turbobearers like the Porsche Cayenne. Hey, but let’s remember the latter costs twice as much. Of course, power costs at the pump: 18 mpg at best on the open road, and under the teen mark around town. That’s awful. But it is 1 mpg better than last year. And, for even greater savings, the engine can kick off four cylinders when they’re not needed. An eco light glows on the dash to let you

know it’s active. This beast is really most at home off the road, where it grips and climbs with a standard Quadra-Trac II four-wheel-drive system. The Selec-Terrain system lets drivers choose one of five settings that are pretailored to differing road or dirt conditions. When things get really bumpy, a Quadra-Lift air suspension adjusts the ride height to help conquer the boulders. A hill-descent feature negotiates the downhill ride. On the road, where most of us hang out, the ride is comfortable, despite a stiffer suspension this year. And corners are taken with ease — for a hefty SUV. Under normal driving conditions, 65 percent of the horses power the rear wheels. For those who are listening, the engine has a subtle burble. Speed is regulated by a five-speed automatic that

review

2012 JeeP GrAND CHerOKee SrT8 BASe PriCe: $27,415 (excluding destination charge) PriCe AS TeSTeD: $55,295

is somewhat sluggish in its decisions — a new eightspeed tranny is said to be in the works down the road and will be welcome. On turning maneuvers, steering is responsive enough but, as always, I have found the Grand Cherokee steering a bit too sensitive on the highway, forcing frequent correction, Big Brembo brakes — six-piston calipers squeeze 15-inch rotors up front, fourpiston and 13.8-inch in the rear — bring this big boy to a halt within 106 feet from 60 mph. That’s better than the Porsche Cayenne. Inside is pure elegance,

with optional French-stitched leather and suede, real carbon-fiber trim and polished metal. Let’s give a tip of the ol’ driving cap to MercedesBenz — parent-company Daimler owned Chrysler at the SRT8’s conception. The dash and door materials are top notch, too, with soft-touch materials and a tight fit everywhere. Gauges are clear and sharp, though instrument visibility sometimes is hampered by the thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel. The standard nav system with 6.5-inch screen is decent enough but won’t win any awards when compared to the competition. MP3 access is standard, too. Seats are comfortable and well-bolstered for snakelike roads. Rear-seaters find more comfort this year with adjustable backrests and more legroom than ever — an extra 3.1 inches. I found plenty of storage pockets for maps and CDs

and whatnot. And planting groceries or golf bags is manageable with 35 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat — which grows to 69 cubic feet with the rear seats down. That’s a little shy of some competitors but more than adequate. The Grand gets ABS, traction and stability control, front-side air bags and side curtain bags, all standard. It gets a top rating in side-collision protection and four of five stars in frontal impact. Choose the new Grand Cherokee from three trims — Laredo, Limited and Overland; each is available with two-wheel or four-wheel drive. But SRT8 rules the roost when it comes to heft and the raw power of 470 horses. And it’s among the best if you choose to climb boulders rather than country roads. Dealing with more refinement and elegance inside ... well, everyone deserves a little pampering sometimes.

Under The Hood: Tips on learning to drive a clutch By Brad Bergholdt McClatchy Newspapers

QUESTION: My daughter just bought her first car and it has a clutch. I’ve driven these quite a while back and will be teaching her how to do it, but wondered if you might have some advice so she’ll do it correctly. —Alicia O.

ANSWER: OK, let’s see what we can do to make this a fun time for both of you. A manual transmission clutch consists of four parts, plus the operating mechanism. First is the flywheel, a large, heavy disc attached to the back end of the engine’s crankshaft. The clutch plate is a slender disc containing very tough friction material on each of its sides and

is connected to the transmission at its center hub. The clutch cover, bolted to the flywheel, also called a pressure plate, completes this sandwich, clamping the clutch disc very tightly between itself and the flywheel. The final part is the throw-out bearing. This part, commanded by the clutch pedal, pushes against the clutch cover, causing it to relax its grip of the clutch disc. A clutch is needed to allow the engine (spinning) to be released from the transmission (not spinning) when the car is stopped and as gear shifts occur. A vehicle can also idle at a stop light, transmission in neutral, clutch engaged — that is, clutch pedal not

pressed — as the transmission provides the slippage. Clutches wear with use, just like the soles of a shoe, and the less slipping and scuffing, the better. Lifespan may vary from 25,000 miles, with improper use or lots of hill starts, to perhaps 100,000 miles or more under gentler conditions. Replacement cost can range from just under $1,000 to well over that. In addition to your teaching, may I provide the following suggestion on taking off from a stop: If something bad happens, mash the clutch pedal down and try again. Learn to focus specifically where the engaging or grabbing action takes place as the pedal

is released. This is usually about one-third of the way up, and it all happens within an inch or so of pedal travel. Listen to the engine’s happiness as you blend a small amount of throttle with just the right release rate. Too much throttle or a slow release slips the clutch badly, eliciting a flaring engine sound. Too little throttle or too quick a release shakes the car and may stall the engine. If this happens, quickly depress the pedal and try again. Listen to and feel this blending action so you can ultimately engage the clutch fairly quickly, but smoothly. Try to minimize pedal-pressed time at stoplights by idling pedal-up,

in neutral, until you see the opposing traffic signal turn yellow. This spares wear and tear on the throw-out bearing. When in stop-and-go traffic or when creeping along, follow these steps: Release the pedal fully, launch the car, fully depress and coast for bit, then repeat. Don’t ride the clutch, and make sure your foot is completely off the pedal unless you are releasing the clutch. It’s OK to hover your foot just above the pedal in stop-andgo traffic. Starting on hills is the most intimidating part of driving a clutch. If you have a hand-lever parking brake, practice applying and releasing the lever while continuously holding

down the thumb button. During a challenging hill start, apply lots of parking brake, thumb down, and release it gradually, along with the clutch. This will help minimize rollback and takes some of the strain off you and the clutch to get rolling. Limited space allows one final suggestion: When downshifting, a tiny blip of the throttle, just before and during the shift, sweetens the shift and reduces transmission synchronizer wear. —Brad Bergholdt is an automotive technology instructor at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, Calif. Readers may send him email at under-thehoodearthlink.net; he cannot make personal replies.


Monday, March 5, 2012 / Page 7

OnTheMOve / Tallahassee Democrat

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