Cocktail Chatter: June 14, 2013

Sebastien Vettel's visit, distracted driving, and car repair costs.

What cocktails go best with all this car chatter? is here to help with weekly recipes. Remember, this is for talking about cars, not driving — always designate a driver. For a refreshing start to summer, we’re drinking a cranberry cooler. In a white wine glass, combine 4 ounces brut champagne, 3/4 ounce Chambord, and 2 ounces cranberry juice. Garnish with a red raspberry.

Oh, Hella No: Spend any time paying attention to tuner cars, especially in online forums, and you’ll soon discover the ridiculous trend called “hellaflush.” The original intent wasn’t bad: lower a car and fit wide or offset wheels so the tire fits close (that’s the “flush” part) against the fender. The bad news is that hellaflush has been taken to ridiculous extremes, typically with cars displaying horrific amounts of camber, tires stretched to their limits over too-wide wheels, and pricey wheel rims literally scraping the inside of fenders. Sounds dumb, right? Well, now there are hellaflush skateboards. Enterprising kids apparently pull apart their skateboard running gear, chop holes in the board, and “lower” the skateboard so that it is hellaflush. You can see a tutorial in this video. Whether it’s a skateboard or a car, I implore you to say no to hellaflush. You may think it looks cool, but it really ruins a car’s ride-and-handling balance and goes against thousands of man-hours of engineering.

Jake HolmesAssociate Web Editor

Cheapest States for Car Repairs: While the West Coast is traditionally the region in the country with the most expensive auto repairs, a recent survey listed four east coast states in its top five most expensive states for “Check Engine” light car repair costs. Despite having the third highest gas prices in the country, our home state of Michigan actually ranked as one of the cheaper states for repairs, coming in at number 46. So while we Michiganders may not be paying as much for auto repairs, we’ll still be feeling the pain in our pockets of paying $4.18/gallon at the pump.

John KalmarGraphic Designer

Red-light Remedy: Distracted drivers are running red lights is the conclusion of a recent study conducted by a group called the National Coalition for Safer Roads. That painfully obvious news should have an impact on the current push for red-light cameras. A driver who is distracted by his or her cell phone and does not notice that the light has turned red isn’t any more likely to notice a red light if there’s a red-light camera at the intersection. The goal for municipalities should be preventing collisions, not collecting revenue from automated camera-based ticketing. To that end, a better tactic to prevent these crashes would be to have the red lights overlap momentarily: when one direction changes from yellow to red, the other direction briefly holds its red before changing to green. That brief overlap could mean the difference between pulling safely into an intersection when the light turns green and getting creamed by a distracted driver.

Joe LorioSenior Editor

RIP LefTurn: Racing driver Jason Leffler, persistent competitor and loving fatherdied Wednesday night as a result of injuries suffered when his sprint car crashed during a heat race at Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey. May he rest in peace.

Rusty BlackwellCopy Editor

Distracted driving: The American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety’s study that says voice-recognition text messaging is as distracting to drivers as actual texting comes the same week the AUVSI held its driverless car summit in Detroit. AUVSI, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, is targeting 2022 as the year we’ll see driverless cars available for sale. Depressing as that is to enthusiasts like you and me, the AAA’s study serves as proof that automotive autopilot systems are inevitable, and these days, necessary. If only we could just hang up and drive.

Todd LassaExecutive Editor

From Zero to Hero: On Tuesday we did the gala reception for Forza 5, part of the hospitality surrounding the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, which is the largest electronic-game trade show in the world. The Forza 5 event at Vibiana was a complete spectacle. There was a paddock of the exotic cars featured in the game, including a McLaren P1. We also saw the very same bright-orange Aston Martin Vanquish V12 with which we had spent the previous weekend. (It pretended not to see us; we were crushed.) Indy-car driver Josef Newgarden even showed up in a two-seat Indy car with a police escort. Bright lights! Fancy cars! Snappy people! An Indy car driving on the street! The Forza 5 wonks take all this for granted, but it made the L.A. auto show look like a dog show in comparison.

Michael Jordan, West Coast Editor

Well Earned: I see that Ford CEO Alan Mulally made some $68 million in 2012. I’m usually the first person to agree that a lot of American corporate executives are overpaid, but in Mulally’s case, I’d say he pretty much earned it. His base salary is a relatively modest $2 million, and most of 2012’s compensation came from stock options, awarded during leaner times in lieu of salary, that he chose to exercise last year. When I interviewed Mulally back in October 2009 and asked him about his compensation, he said, “When Ford does well, I’ll do well.” Contrast this with the many instances of excessive CEO compensation in America where people get paid tens of millions of dollars for failing. Mulally has been paid tens of millions for succeeding, wildly, and bringing the Ford Motor Company back from the brink. I don’t begrudge him a cent, and if I were a Ford employee, I wouldn’t, either, because without Mulally, I’d probably not have a job.

Joe DeMatioDeputy Editor

The land of the free, and the home of low taxes: Americans often complain about taxes, but after a recent visit to Hong Kong and mainland China I realize just how good we have it, at least when it comes to vehicle taxes. While having dinner with a friend who lives in Hong Kong, I asked her what kind of car she was driving. She told us that she bought a used Toyota minivan because of the high taxes on new cars in Hong Kong, taxes that approach 100%. Sure enough, when I searched a government website the next day, I found out that Hong Kong taxes privately owned new cars as follows:

40% on the first $150,000 HKD

75% on the next $150,000 HKD

100% on the next $200,000 HKD

115% on the remainder

With an exchange rate of 7.76 Hong Kong dollars to one U.S. dollar, that would mean that the tax on a $50,000 car ($388,000 HKD) is $33,570 ($260,500 HKD). Not quite the 100% that was quoted by my friend, but still absurdly high when compared with the taxes we pay. (Other than buying a used car, you can also buy an “environmentally friendly petrol car” from a list of 39 approved vehicles, on which the tax is 45% with a cap of $75,000 HKD.)

In mainland China, too, cars are taxed at a much higher rate than in the United States. While staying at an upscale hotel in Shenzhen, I ran into a press event for the Toyota Venza, which was recently introduced in China. The price that was quoted for the Venza was 500,000 RMB, the equivalent of $85,000 U.S. dollars. (Prices for the Venza start at about $30,000 in the United States.)

Something to think about when you’re experiencing sticker shock the next time you go shopping for a car.

Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor

Visit from Vettel: Pretty big week in Ann Arbor, following Sebastien Vettel’s decisive Formula 1 win in Montreal last Sunday—his first win at that circuit after several attempts, and his third win this season. If you don’t follow Formula 1 racing like I don’t follow Formula 1 racing, you’ll have many questions, as I did. First of all, why was it a big day in Ann Arbor? Well, because he came here to the Automobile Magazine/Jean Knows Cars offices to give us an interview. The list of questions was the subject of intense back and forth between Vettel’s Red Bull Racing team handlers and our editors.

They wanted to vet all Vettel questions and, of course, we said no. We wanted to ask our readers and Facebook fans what they wanted to know from him. This was not necessarily anything that he’d want to answer.

The first question might be, Why should anybody care about Sebastian Vettel? Who is he? He’s a slightly built, curly-haired German kid, twenty-five years old, who has won the last three Formula 1 championships in a row. He is dominating the points lead after seven races out of nineteen, with a major lead (see below) of thirty-six points on his nearest competitor, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso from Spain.

The next question might be, Why is the team called Red Bull Racing-Renault when the reason he was coming to see us was in his new role as Infiniti’s performance director? Well, it goes like this: Renault owns Nissan, and Infiniti is part of Nissan.  The engines are from Renault, which has been in Formula 1 racing for a long, long time. Infiniti is trying to become a bigger entity in Europe, and Formula 1 racing is the number-one automotive billboard for the rest of the world outside the United States. So it makes sense that Infiniti would buy into a sponsorship of the team and Vettel to amp up its presence.

You might wonder why they wanted to vet our interview questions. Why would they care? Because Vettel’s first win this year, in Malaysia, came at the closing moments of the race when the driver separating him from his teammate, Mark Weber, who was running in first place, dropped out. Vettel then ignored team orders, passed Weber, and won the race. He later apologized, but the die was cast, and the fans have been unruly ever since. In fact, when he won in Canada, he was booed loudly by the crowd. We actually did ask him about his reception after the Canadian race. He rightfully pointed out the huge number of Ferrari fans and said he was encouraged by the increasing number of blue-hatted Red Bull fans in the crowd. Click here for the answers to this and other questions from our Facebook fans and readers.

Then he was gone, leaving behind a big stack of Red Bull/Infiniti hats with a big fat number 1 on the bill.

As he was leaving, we were able to ask Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner one question. Click here to see it.

2013 Formula 1 Standings after Canada:

Top five DRIVERS:

1. Sebastian Vettel     Germany        Red Bull Racing-Renault       132

2. Fernando Alonso Spain              Ferrari                                    96

3. Kimi Raikkonen     Finland           Lotus-Renault                        88

4. Lewis Hamilton     Great Britain  Mercedes                               77

5. Mark Weber          Australia         Red Bull Racing-Renault       69

6. Nico Rosberg         Finland           Mercedes                               57



1. Red Bull Racing-Renault   201

2. Ferrari                                145

3. Mercedes                           134

4. Lotus-Renault                    114

5. Force India-Mercedes      51


First seven races/winners:

1. Australia     Raikkonen

2. Malaysia     Vettel

3. China          Alonso

4. Bahrain      Vettel

5. Spain           Alonso

6. Monaco      Rosberg

7. Canada       Vettel

Jean Jennings, President and Editor-in-Chief

Pick Your Plate: I’m amazed that Rusty Blackwell didn’t write his Cocktail Chatter about the Triumph Dolomite Sprint he plucked from Kitman’s collection this past weekend. The 1979 sedan interested me somewhat, although I’d already seen it in a comparison we did in April 2010 with a BMW 2002tii, but I was more interested in the process Rusty went through to obtain a license plate for the car. I didn’t know that, in some states, you can buy a license plate from the car’s birth year and stick it on. You pay a fee to register the car once instead of annually, and that’s good for however long the car is in your garage. The best part? Plates from the late 70s are so much cooler looking than today’s plates.

Chris Nelson, Road Test Editor

Hummus Chatter: Two items in the Israeli media caught my eye this week. The first was Google’s acquisition of the Israeli startup Waze. Driving enthusiasts have latched on to the phone app for its crowd-sourced police detection—users notify each other of radars and speed traps. Google, however, is more interested in the fact that Waze knows where you are and can present ads related to your route. Yet another reminder that our personal information isn’t so personal these days.

Meanwhile, Ferrari made a rather unusual pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In the first-ever “Peace Road Show,” Ferrari Formula 1 cars loped around the city at speeds up to 120 mph. Israel media celebrated the only way they know how—by complaining. The traffic! The cost! The political implications! (In this part of the world, there are always political implications). For racing fans, though, the sound of Ferrari engines wailing off the city’s ancient stones must have been something of a religious experience.

David Zenlea, Associate Editor

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