Q. What is the fuel economy rating of General Motors’ highly publicized Volt? GM  said last year it expected the Volt to get 230 mpg, but has been quiet lately about any figure. — D.M., Chicago

A. GM no longer is planning on a 230 mpg figure. It’s waiting to see how the Environmental Protection Agency will rate fuel economy of its extended-range Volt, which goes on sale later this year. GM says the Volt will travel up to 40 miles on a single battery charge and that its gas engine, which generates electricity, adds another 300 miles of range. But under what conditions? The EPA can only give an estimated figure, as it does with pure gas engines, because driving habits and conditions vary considerably.

Q. Why are people buying a good number of large SUVs again? Have they forgotten that gasoline prices topped $4 per gallon not long ago, and may do so again? — F.K., Los Angeles

A. Americans generally dislike small cars, and many like the carrying capacity and towing abilities of large SUVs, which now not only are huge SUVs such as the Chevrolet Suburban, but also large car-based “crossover” vehicles such as the Buick Enclave. Some are buying a large SUV now because they fear upcoming stricter fuel economy standards will cause production of such vehicles to cease. There’s also pent-up demand for large SUVs because some folks held on to their worn-out ones during the recession, saving their money or putting it in non-automotive financial areas. And they usually also own smaller, more economical cars if gas rpices soar. I’ve tested the large, redesigned 2011 Infiniti QX56 SUV and found it would be ideal for a comfortable coast-to-coast drive. 

Q. What’s the average price of a new vehicle? — K.A., Brookfield, Ill.

A. Industrywide, consumers spent an estimated average of $29,217 for new cars or trucks from January through May, according to estimates from Edmunds.com

Q. Isn’t it odd that Volkswagen—generally known as an economy car outfit in America—has bought Porsche? — E.R., New York City

A. Not at all. The first Porsche sports cars from the early 1950s had many modified Volkswagen Beetle components, and Porsche and Volkswagen sold a virtually identical sports car in the 1970s—with Porsche selling it here and Volkswagen selling it in Europe. Both long have cooperated on various projects. Don’t forget that Dr. Ferdinand Porsche came up with the Volkswagen Beetle before World War II. Incidentally, tiny Porsche almost bought giant Volkswagen not long ago, but couldn’t pull off the proposed deal. Volkswagen has a higher-line image in Europe than in America and is working to gain a more upscale general image here. Europeans could never quite understand the fascination and love of the original Volkswagen Beetle by Americans during its enormous popularity here from the 1950s through the early 1970s.  

Q. Would you like to own an auto company? — M.S., Washington, D.C.

A. Not unless it was a small outfit building costly (high-profiit), high-demand exotic cars such as the Ferrari. Most buyers of such autos really appreciate them, drive them only in nice weather and carefully maintain them. They often own at least two or three other vehicles that are used for routine driving. Incidentally, the Midwest is a good place to find such used vehicles because they aren’t driven at least six months of the year because of winter road conditions.

Q. Does Mitsubishi have a chance to make it in America? It’s far from being a Japanese best-seller, but occasionally has done pretty well here in the past. — G.A., Dallas, Texas

A. Mitsubishi Motors North America--controlled by a giant Japanese industrial outfit—has only one U.S. factory (an underutilized one in Illinois). It’s been on the ropes several times—once because of a ridiculous marketing program—and because its U.S. vehicle operation is small, as is its advertising budget. However, it vows it will remain here and is doing well lately. For instance, sales of its Outlander crossover are up more than 29 per cent year-to-date, its Galant sedan sales have risen more than 43 percent in that period and July sales of its Lancer Sportback were more than double its previous highest monthly total registered in October 2009.

Q. I heard that exclusive Porsche suffered badly in America last year. The economy still still isn’t exactly sizzling, so how is it doing this year? — E.H., Des Moines, Iowa

A. Porsche has a revered name and always snaps back. Porsche Cars North America said its July U.S. sales of 2,703 units increased a whopping 75 percent, compared to the same admittedly economically dismal year-ago month. However, this represented the best single-month sales results for Porsche in two years in America. Porsche’s new Panamera sedan has been an instant hit, and its deftly redesigned Cayenne SUV also comes in hybrid form this fall.

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