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Several automakers have posted sales numbers for December 2008, and compared to December 2007 the numbers are staggering!  Chrysler -53%, Toyota -37%, Ford -32%, and VW -14%! When you look at 2008 as a whole, all but Subaru posted a decline in sales. While Subaru was down almost 8% in December, they posted a gain of 0.3% for the year, compared to GM -23%, Ford -21% and Volkswagen -3.2%! This is good news to the relatively small Subaru (total sales of 187,700 units), and even though they forecast flat numbers for 2009, they have to be encouraged when other car makers are projecting declines of 15-20%.

Researchers from Baylor University have been experimenting with producing auto parts out of coconut husks. They believe the husks can be used to make interior parts such as trunk liners, floorboards and interior door panels. Currently these parts are made out of synthetic materials but since coconuts are so prevalent in countries near the equator, this is a good way to put trash to use. The husks currently are burned or piled up to become breeding grounds for malaria carrying mosquitoes. This offers a viable alternative and another source of income for poor coconut farmers. To produce the husk material, first the husks are combined with polypropylene and then molded into the shape using heat and pressure. Read more about it at LiveScience.

Aftermarket News is reporting today that the Automotive Parts Remanufacturers Association (APRA) is voicing strong opposition to creating a nationwide “Cash for Clunkers” program, which lawmakers may be considering as part of any upcoming federal economic stimulus plan. In California, we're familiar with "Cash for Clunkers" programs, in which the State uses tax dollars to purchase older cars from owners, and then destroys the vehicles.  The goal of the California program has been to remove "gross polluters" from the road as part of the State's strict Smog control regulations.

There is a stunning statistic that was related to me at a recent Emissions Tech 2009 update class.  Nationwide, over 60% of all the Catalytic Converters replaced in order for a vehicle to pass an emissions test are failing less than six months later--in fact, the catalytic converters are failing so severely that six months later, the new CAT and vehicle will again fail the emissions test.  This means that the vehicle is back to inefficient performance and wasting fuel, based on what is being released from the tailpipe.  How could a perfectly good CAT go bad so fast? The answer is that the 'root cause' of the emissions problem was never addressed. The Catalytic Converter was replaced to 'mask' the real problem. When a vehicle is new, it barely needs a CAT in order to run 'clean' other than during warm-up or when it is under a heavy load.  As the engine management components, i.e., the spark plugs, wires, coil(s), air and fuel filter, injectors, oxygen sensor(s), EGR system wear and get dirty with carbon, the performance efficiency of the engine degrades drastically. This why the 'Check Engine Light' was created. It's a signal that the engine is running poorly and one or more systems have reached their maximum level of compensation or have even failed.

Car & Driver recently published its list of the top 10 fastest cars of 2008. Once again, my comfortable sedan did not make the list unfortunately!  All of the winners can run quarter miles in less than 11 seconds and can go from 0-60mph in less than 3.7 seconds.  At the top of the list is the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 with a sticker price just over $1.6 million.  I’m not sure I want to know the price on repairs for this vehicle or how often I’d have to take it to the shop. 

This is the first in a series of blog posts that our emissions and diagnostics expert, Daniel Dillon, will be writing for RepairPal.  Dan has 22 years of experience as a licensed Smog Technician in California. He helped write test questions for the California Smog Technician Exam, and has performed Consumer Assistance Program and gold shield diagnostic work for the State. He also was an instructor for SnapOn Tool Corporation. Dan's posts will address important events or trends he encounters in his shop.

Chinese Automaker BYD (Build Your Dreams) has entered the Hybrid vehicle market. For the equivalent of $22,000 U.S.D., Chinese citizens can now purchase the first Chinese built, plug-in Hybrid! Named the F3 DM, (DM stands for Dual Mode) the automaker hopes to make it available in the U.S. in 2011. This is quite ambitious for a company that sold its first vehicle in 2003! The F3 DM is powered by a ferrous battery that BYD claims propels the vehicle from 0 to 60 mph in 10.5 seconds and will travel over 60 miles on a full charge. This technology, says BYD general manager Henry Li, "is superior to the nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery used in current Hybrids". The battery can deliver twice the voltage of a Ni-MH battery, costs less and is eco friendly as it contains no pollutants!  learn more

You may have simply had it with your old car and the repairs are costing more than you’d like. (Hopefully you’ve checked the RepairPal Price Estimator). If that’s the case, you may want to consider donating your car to a charity.  And…with 2009 rapidly approaching, you may need a tax write-off for 2008.There are two big things to consider when donating your car:

What happens when you cross a 1972 Datsun with an electric motor and 60 lithium batteries? The quickest accelerating street legal electric car! Besides the stickers that cover the car, you'd never think that this car had 300hp and can smoke Corvettes at the dragstrip. The White Zombie is now running at world record pace with 11.5 second quarter mile. Check out the video below!

The folks over at CAR Online delivered a great article today showing a variety of creative concepts to upgrade Santa's ride. Bentley, Ford, Nissan and Rolls-Royce provided design ideas to the article.  The slick Bentley is my personal favorite.