Friday, May 5, 2017

First Drive (for me at least) - 2017 VW e-Golf!

I am not a candidate for an electric car. Don't get me wrong - I love the idea of green tech and of never having to wait in a Costco gas line again. It's just that the best range and the fastest recharging rate still do not work for me. Maybe if I was commuting back and forth to work again an electric would work. But I'd still need another vehicle for trips and I really can't afford two new cars.

But these reasons do not negate my enthusiasm for today's electrics.

 VW has spruced up the e-Golf for 2017 making it more exciting looking (and I love the Atlantic Blue).

Yesterday I got to drive a 2017 e-Golf. And it was, well it was just like driving a car. More or less.

Volkswagen invited a few area writers to drive from Sonnen VW in San Rafael to The Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, where we had lunch and conversation, and back; a distance of about 45 miles each way. A fellow writer, musician and green car aficionado Steve Schaefer drove to The Ritz. He fiddled with the settings (there's a "normal" and different energy saving profiles) while I navigated.

We had a nice lunch, interesting conversations with the other writers, and then I drove back to San Rafael. But before I tell you how well (or poorly) we fared how about some specs?

There is currently an e-Golf on sale - it's a 2016. It looks just like any other 4-door Golf except for the "e" designation and the lack of a tailpipe. The '16 has a range of up to 83 miles on a full charge. That is the most pertinent spec as far as I'm concerned. Eight-three miles was just enough to get me back and forth to work before I retired. For the SF Bay Area's "mega-commuters" (those who drive 50 miles or more one way to work) a recharge station would be needed at work.

The 2017 e-Golf is rated at up to 125 miles. That's more like it. As you can see the '16 would not have been able to make the round trip from San Rafael to Half Moon Bay and back while the '17 would have, a margin of about 35 miles.

I'm no electric nerd so I don't really care about most of the other specs but for those of you who do care here they are:
- The electric motor is upgraded from 85 kW & 115 hp ('16) to 100 kW & 134 hp ('17). Torque is up from 199 ft-lb to 214.
-There will be three trim levels, an SE, SEL Premium and a Limited Edition.
-There are all those nifty graphics to tell you how little energy your car is using.
- There is an available "fast charger" that allows the batteries to reach 80% charge within an hour at Fast Charging Stations. Normal charge rate @ 240 volts is less than six hours.

Instead of a tachometer you get a usage gauge - to the left into the green is regen; to the right usage.

Range Monitor let's you know how you are driving - 80/100 is pretty good.

When Steve drove he mostly used the "B" setting. B provides automatic regeneration - take your foot off the accelerator pedal and the car slows down rapidly, regenerating power to the battery pack. When I drove back I used B and Eco Plus. Overall I think we did fairly well for the 90 mile round trip. We started with a full charge (125 mile range) and when we got back the readout said we had 50 miles of range left.

I wouldn't recommend the Eco Plus setting for anyone except the most hard core energy savers. Acceleration is very leisurely, the A/C isn't and the top speed seemed to be limited to 60 mph. I think the best bet is to always use the B profile and otherwise drive normally.

Probably the biggest two differences most people will notice between a gas-engine Golf and an e-Golf is the absence of noise in the e-Golf and its extra (430 lbs +/-) weight. Driving it is just like driving any Golf. And that's a good thing.

Volkswagen has not announced pricing for the 2017 e-Golf yet. The 2016 starts at $21,495. A 2017 Chevrolet Bolt starts at $36,620 so that gives VW a fair bit of wiggle room. I'd guess the 2017 e-Golf will be more than $22,000 and less than $30,000.

I haven't mentioned energy rebates because they change. Check your area to see what is available.

If an electric vehicle suits your needs the 2017 e-Golf might be the car for you. VW hopes to have them on dealer lots by the end of this summer.

A little hard to see here but below the thin chrome strip at the corners are two faux exhaust outlets.

Friday, April 21, 2017

2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon

Everybody is talking or writing about the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon. You know that Oh-My-God fast car from Dodge. The car that will pull the front wheels on take-off and hit 0-60 in 2.3 seconds. To twist a line from Julius Caesar, "I come to praise Demon, not bury it."

But unlike all those who praise Demon's tire melting power I want to praise the technology that makes this possible.

Imagine if you will that you are in 1969. Now try to imagine a street car with 840 hp; try to imagine driving it back and forth to work. I turned 20 in 1969. Probably the most powerful domestic car you could buy was a Mopar 426 Hemi. You might get 14 mpg on the highway. Now think of what you'd have to do to that Hemi, that was rated at 425 hp, to bump it up to 840. Not exactly streetable.

I haven't driven a Demon so I don't know for sure but I'm willing to bet it has a nice, smooth idle. Dodge says it can get 22 mpg on the highway and accelerate from 0-60 in about 2.3 seconds (or less).

Who would have thought oh those many years ago that a car this powerful could actually be a daily driver? Thanks to modern technology Dodge has pulled a rabbit from its hat.

This is one reason car dealers get a bad rap.

My wife and I are exploring buying a new car. We know what we want but we're not sure if we can swing it. So I "built" the car we wanted on the auto maker's web site and asked a local dealer to quote on it. We are very specific on what we want - base model, blue paint, black interior.

So a salesperson contacts us to let us know he has an upscale model in white with tan interior. Uh no we want what we want. "Yeah but this is just a little more." Listen, it's more money and it's the wrong color.

The auto company goes to all the trouble of building a web site that allows a customer to build the car they want and then a dealer goes and tries to sell you something else? What's the point?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Terry Page 1950-2017

I just heard this afternoon that Terry Page, the owner of Page One Automotive (POA) died yesterday. I wouldn't say I knew Terry well; I usually saw him at different car events his company had organized. But I liked him.

I first came into contact with Terry in 1997, when I started writing for the Pacifica Tribune. I had contacted some of the car companies looking for test cars and one of them referred me to POA.Terry hooked me up with my first test car in the US, a '97 Chrysler LeBaron Convertible. Later that year Terry asked me if I was aware of the Western Automotive Journalists (WAJ) (I wasn't) and he suggested I should attend their Media Day at Sears Point.

For those that don't know if you review cars the cars come from a company that arranges everything for the car company. POA is one of two in the Bay Area.

I've been told that Terry started POA a little over 30 years ago. In that time there have been three or four others in our area that have come and gone but POA has persevered. POA does more than just make sure writers get cars - they organize car events for most of their clients including WAJ's Media Days (plural now).

I respected Terry immensly. Not only did he start and helm POA, he assembled a group of employees that reflect his vision for customer service. It's no surprise that many of his employees have been with him for a long time.

One little observation about Terry that said it all to me about his character. One year during the Monterey Car Week I had to go to The Inn at Spanish Bay to pick up a pass to something. The Inn was headquarters for many car company execs, some of them clients of POA. There out front was Terry schlepping luggage for them. Terry may have owned the company but he was not above doing even the most menial job. That says it all.

My condolences go out to Terry's family and his employees. You will be missed Terry but not forgotten.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Collusion in the Auto Industry?

Is it just "like minds think alike"? Or is there something more sinister going on here? Someone should dig into this.

And that someone won't be me. I will ask the question though, Is there only one person in the whole world who picks upholstery colors?

I don't know what is going on but a number of test cars this year have had a similar shade of brown interior, usually paired with black. Volkswagen calls it Marrakesh Brown, Chrysler's is Deep Mocha, Fiat's is Saddle, and Ford's is Camel. That's four of the 2017s I've tested. Here's some examples (not just cars I've tested):

Yes there are differences in shades of brown but they are all brown! 

My wife was the first to wonder what was going on, and she didn't like the color. Neither do I. I prefer a darker brown.

So really, what's going on? I know I don't understand current fashion. I don't understand the trend of light brown shoes with dark suits. James Bond did not wear brown with a dark suit!

I remember hearing on some British show on PBS, "one never wears brown in town." So be James Bond, eschew brown. Please.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca - 60 Years Strong

I attended a dinner last night at the Basque Cultural Center in South San Francisco (great food) to celebrate one of the great race tracks in the world, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, formerly known as just Laguna Seca. It was also a celebration of the recent three-year management contract given to the creators of Laguna Seca, SCRAMP (Sports Car Racing Association of Monterey Peninsula).

In case you didn't know the past few years have been very chaotic for SCRAMP. For whatever reason (reports vary) the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, which owns the land the track is on, decided they weren't happy with the arrangement with SCRAMP. (For more background dig through the Monterey Herald's archives.) It looked for awhile like SCRAMP would lose their contract. But for at least the next three years they have a reprieve. Fingers crossed that things will settle down for much longer.

Way back in 1957 a group of sports car "nuts" decided the Monterey Peninsula needed a permanent road course. From 1950 through 1956 sports cars raced through the Del Monte Forest in Pebble Beach. The race ended when the course, on public roads, was deemed too dangerous. The genesis for Laguna Seca came from the Pebble Beach Road Race. The first race at Laguna Seca was held on November 9, 1957.

 The original track layout.

My first trip to Laguna Seca was in 1990 for the Historics. I had flown to California from Toronto for a job interview and a friend suggested we go see the races. I've been to a number of races since including all but two Monterey Motorsports Reunions (the new "historics"). My media group, Western Automotive Journalists (WAJ) have held their Media Days there for years. I actually was a volunteer crew member on an IMSA GT Light team in the mid-90s.

As a kid growing up on the East Coast, Laguna was just a fantasy. By the time I first visited I had been to a few tracks - Lime Rock, Mid-Ohio, Watkins Glen, Waterford Hills, St. Jovite, and Mosport. No matter how many pictures you've seen of Laguna it takes the real thing to bring the place into perspective. The first thing that hit me was how dry the place was; let's face it East Coast tracks are green, park-like places. I'd been to Riverside before it closed but that was in the desert.

What I wasn't prepared for was seeing so many of my boyhood idols in the flesh. Racers whom I had only read about.

Since my first trip I've driven Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (MRLS) a few times during WAJ's Media Days. I've done the Walter Mitty thing even if in reality it was more like a Sunday cruise. It gave me more respect for the real race drivers and for what a demanding track MRLS is.

MRLS today

It was said at the dinner that most race tracks do not make money. I'll take that at face value. Certainly many, many tracks have disappeared over the years. Some, like Riverside, to make way for other development and others simply because they were a money pit. The answer to "How do you make a small fortune in racing?" is to start with a large fortune. The same I suspect holds true for a race track.

MRLS has additional barriers to even breaking even. For a long time the track has been limited to five major events per year. (They do rent the track at other times to clubs, race teams, car companies, etc.) If one event doesn't pay off for whatever reason (weather, fickle fans) there is a large hole in the proposed yearly budget.

Under the new contract MRLS can now hold seven events. Two more events to either make money or not.

Another barrier, one that many tracks face, is noise restrictions. When Laguna was built it was almost in the middle of nowhere. The land was part of Ford Ord. There was little to no development along Highway 68. Noise was not a problem. But things have changed. And even though those who built houses and those that bought them knew there was a race track nearby they now complain about the noise, just like so many complain about airports that have existed for years. (I once lived near three railroad level crossings - I can tell you about noise.) I'd like to remind those who complain about the noise that the noise is the sound of money.

Money? I thought you said the track is lucky to break even Bruce? The money comes not from the track but from the people who go to the track. A large proportion of race goers leave behind a lot of money on the Monterey Peninsula; a lot of money. As in hundreds of millions.

Tourism is a double edged sword. It brings in much needed money but it also brings in - gasp - tourists! Tourists who clog the roads. I have friends who live on the Peninsula and they always complain about the traffic; heck I complain about the traffic. But without the people who cause all that traffic there would be far fewer jobs on the Peninsula.

I'm not bright enough to have answers to all the problems but I know there are answers even if there is no perfect solution. I believe the County Board of Supervisors ultimately wants more money from MRLS but maybe there isn't any money to be directly had from the track. That doesn't mean there isn't money to be had. The revenue from all those tourists is a huge benefit. Maybe there is a way the county could increase their share of the taxes the tourists pay? I know many cities levy a Transient Occupancy Tax on hotel rooms. Is it possible for a county to do the same?

Whatever happens I hope that Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca can be separated from the politics. The County Board of Supervisors is an elected board and it will change. It could change for the better or worse. That hurts long-term planning. Politics - must it always come down to politics?

I urge everyone who cares about auto racing, not just those who reside in Monterey County or California but world-wide, to tell the Monterey County Board of Supervisors what Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca means to you. Let them know how much money you spend in Monterey County because of the track. I know that when I go for The Week in August spend somewhere between $200-$500 and I stay with a friend, as a journalist get passes to events, and get feted (sometimes) by car companies.

For more information on Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca including scheduled events go to Those who would like to make a financial contribution to The Laguna Seca Raceway Fund go to

Please feel free to share this; I'd like to see it go worldwide.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Roll Back Fuel Economy Standards? I think not.

As I write this Trump is giving a speech in Michigan saying he's going to roll back the CAFE standards to make it easier to build cars in "America." (I put America in quotes because I'm not sure Trump understands that Canada and Mexico are part of America.)

I am so disappointed in the North American auto makes - FCA, Ford and General Motors. After telling us how committed they are to building the most fuel efficient, cleanest vehicles ever they buy into Trump's turn back the clock b.s.

Since the dawn of emissions control and fuel economy standards the domestic auto makers have cried that they can't do it. And then they go out and do it. Make no mistake they have never built cleaner and more fuel efficient vehicles of their own volition. Back in the '70s and early '80s their answer to the inroads fuel efficient imports made was to build downsized clones of what they'd been building for decades. And for the most part their cars were junk. Every single advancement in fuel efficiency, lower emissions and safety has been driven by government regulations. Today "Detroit" builds some of the best cars in the world.

Right now fuel is relatively inexpensive. But for how long? If fuel prices spike again and the domestics turn their backs on fuel efficient cars will there be another collapse of our auto industry?

I drive a wide variety of cars and trucks. I just drove a Jeep that got 28 mpg on the highway. Jeep (or FCA) didn't decide all by itself to build a 4X4 capable of 28 mpg - it is because of government regulations that they worked their butts off to reach that figure.

We now have cars that put the muscle cars of the '60s and '70s to shame. Today's performance cars are quicker, faster, cleaner, and they get way better fuel economy.

I didn't listen to Trump's full speech; my blood pressure won't let me. Is he proposing different regulations for domestic vehicles? Is he going to allow them to be gas guzzlers and gross polluters while restricting imports to tighter standards? That would seem to be counter productive.

Detroit and the United States do not need to go backward to compete with the rest of the world. Going backward is a loosing game. We need to build the best. Nothing less.

Update: In all fairness I need to point out that many believe the Obama Administration's proposed CAFE fuel economy standard of 54.5 mpg is simply too high.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca 60th Anniversary & Retrospective – The Early Beginnings

I didn't write this, it's straight from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. I've often cited the historical importance and grandeur of the track. Before I even moved to California it was one of three icons I had to see - the Grand National (Oakland) Roadster Show, Laguna Seca & Sears Point. As far as I'm concerned Mazda Racyway is one of a handful of North American race courses that deserve to be listed on a Historic registry.

An early aerial image of the newly-constructed race track.

MONTEREY, Calif., February 22, 2017 — The rich and storied history of then-named Laguna Seca Raceway officially began November 9, 1957 with the inaugural race called the Eighth Annual Pebble Beach Road Races. This was a continuation of the racing through the forest at nearby Pebble Beach that began in 1950 and ended six years later.
But the story of how the track was designed and built in record time is an oft-forgotten story. Over the coming months to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the iconic Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, stories will delve into some of the more memorable moments of the past six decades.
After the Pebble Beach Road Races took a tragic turn, the need for a safer course was deemed paramount. The popularity of the races and the financial impact to the community had impressed military authorities at Fort Ord.
Enter a group of civic minded businessmen who were willing to donate their time and money to keep sports car racing alive in Monterey. In mid-1957 the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP) was formed and began working with military officers. SCRAMP negotiated a five year deal and paid $3,000 to the Army for use of the land, and on August 7, 1957 a lease was signed.
SCRAMP began fundraising and collected $125,000 for track construction that began the first week of September. Amazingly, just 60 days after starting, the track was completed in time to host the first race in November where 100 entries were received and 35,000 spectators arrived.
Heading the task force was Wallace Holm. In his own words:
“I was chairman of the Site Development and Maintenance Committee for SCRAMP from 1951 to 1961 and like any young architect, I envisioned something as grand as the Empire State Building, but it didn’t just happen that way. Like many things that happen in life, the race track was created by committee. There were a lot of people working together negotiating deals and working out compromises.
“I was very lucky to have two things going for me: First of all, there was the wonderful Laguna Seca site that the Army and Defense Department allowed us to lease and the second thing was the excellent help that I had in building the track. Another beneficial thing that this great site had going for it was that it was located in a bowl where the spectators could see at least 90 percent of the race at all times.
“Granite Construction Company agreed to build the track at cost and they also agreed to wait for some of their money. We were fortunate to have one of the best road builders in the world working with us. Not only were we running a cost-conscious endeavor, but we were building the track on the fly.
“The plans that I drew of the track weren’t drawn until after the track was completed. We literally drew a rough diagram in the dirt, staked it out, and the bulldozers moved in and went to work. Building less than two miles of road was not a monumental task because we knew where the track was generally going to be.
“Some changes had to be made to our original concept because I didn’t know anything about race track design and several of the drivers who visited the construction site told us that some of the turns, as we originally conceived them, were too dangerous. Unlike architectural projects like the TransAmerica Pyramid, or other notable skyscrapers that make an almost immediate impression, it took time and promotion for the Laguna Seca track to establish its reputation.”
It has been reported that the Corkscrew actually came about when the crew, who were going to lunch, told the bulldozer driver, “Get down the hill any way you can.” Thus, legends are made.
Now 60 years later, the County of Monterey-owned circuit is still managed by SCRAMP. The 2017 racing season will be celebrating the anniversary throughout the year. The full racing schedule is Ferrari Challenge, May 12-14; the inaugural Spring Classic vintage car race and historic motorcycle exhibition, May 19-21; Motul FIM Superbike World Championship GEICO U.S. Round featuring MotoAmerica, July 7-9; Monterey Pre-Reunion, August 12-13; Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, August 17-20; Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix (IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship), September 21-24; and Pirelli World Challenge, October 12-15.
For ticket information, camping and hospitality packages, visit or call 831-242-8200.