Q. How many Americans consider themselves “smart shoppers” when it comes to buying a car? – E.H., Chicago 

A. Nearly 60 percent of Americans view themselves as a “smart shopper” when it comes to the car buying process, says a telephone survey of 1,000 adults conducted for CarMax, Inc., a large used car retailer. “Hagglers” were a distant second at 13 percent, followed by “data-crunchers” at 11 percent, “worry warts” at 7 percent and “impulse buyers” at 4 percent, the survey said. However, parents with children under 18 identified themselves as “data-crunchers,” versus 8 percent of respondents with no young kids. 

Q. I enjoyed your review of the new Chevrolet Volt electric car. As editor of the Avanti Magazine, I especially liked the way you compared the Volt’s (lack of a conventional grille and ) low front air intake to that of the early 1960s Studebaker Avanti. To this day, General Motors copies some of (Avanti lead designer) Raymond Loewy’s styling features.  – L.S., Maryland Heights, Mo.

A. Both the Volt and Avanti are very aerodynamic. When the Avanti was developed, however, Studebaker had no wind tunnel to help shape the Avanti’s wind-cheating body. But the Avanti’s unique styling (no other American car has ever looked like it) was so “right” that its slick body helped it break speed records. The Volt won’t break speed records, but its air intake design helps reduce air drag and thus assists in increasing its mileage range.

Q. Did the Volt you tested have much wind noise at 70 mph? – M.B., via the Internet

A. Virtually none.

Q. I’m looking for a classic Pontiac performance car and keep running across the statement that good ones had a “Hurst shifter.” Why? – E.H., Harrisburg, Pa.

A. Car enthusiasts in the early 1960s quickly replaced flimsy factory shifters with floor-mounted Hurst shifters because they were the best shifters made in America and provided the best manual shifting. It was a marketing plus when Pontiac noted that its performance cars, such as its legendary GTO muscle car, came with a Hurst shifter. GM thus put aside its policy of preventing any outside supplier from putting its name on a part or component, except tires, built into one of its cars. High-performance car fans knew about the Hurst organization. Founded in 1958 it’s one of the most respected names in the auto performance field. The Hurst brand has long been synonymous with speed, performance and quality. It has a solid track record of pioneering high-performance products and vehicles for all forms of motorsports and hot rodding. Hurst was one of the first specialty companies to partner with large U.S. automakers and bring enthusiasts limited-edition performance vehicles such as the Hurst Olds.

Q. With student activities, more kids are walking home in fall and winter in the dark. Any steps to take to prevent hitting them with vehicles? I’ve had a few close calls when kids darted into streets. – M.H., Southfield, Mich.

A. Don’t assume children can see you or are paying attention. Don’t use a cell phone driving through neighborhoods and stay below posted speed limits. Pay attention to what’s happening on sidewalks and roadways. Be extra alert when pulling in and out of driveways. Don’t pass other vehicles that have stopped in the road because they may be dropping off kids.

Q. Do you think that hybrid or electric vehicles will become very popular? – K.A., Dallas

A. “Green vehicle” (hybrid, electric, etc.) penetration is expected to remain in single digits, says J.D. Power and Associates, a global marketing information services company. It feels consumers  want to be ‘green” and are interested in green vehicles, but says most don’t want to pay the price premium for such vehicles. And it feels that prices won’t come down until sales volumes increase or until government incentives offset the price premiums. Moreover, J.D. Power says consumers are concerned about the green technology, specifically about battery life/replacement and disposal costs. And it says they’re concerned about the resale value of an alternative-powered vehicle because of the above concerns. But if gasoline hits $5-plus per gallon and stays there, expect far more interest in green vehicles and thus, presumably, higher volumes for them. Higher volumes generally lower vehicle costs, but that may not be necessarily true for electric cars unless there is a major battery development breakthrough.

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