Friday, April 17, 2015

The Test Drive

So you've done your research.  You know which vehicle you want to test drive.  What should you do on a test drive? Are there different types of test drives?  Spoilers - yes there are.

The Traditional Test Drive:
The salesperson drives you off the lot to a designated "switching" spot, where you FINALLY get into the driver's seat.  You are then instructed to make a series of right hand turns until you arrive back at the dealership, where the salesperson directs your to park in the "sold" spot.  This is supposed to give you a sense of ownership in a vehicle in which you've only done one lap around the block, and have thus totally fallen in love with this vehicle.

The Good - Not much for you the buyer.  You haven't learned much (other than how the vehicle takes a right hand turn).  If you were lucky, you got to experience "stop and go" traffic.  For the salesperson and the dealership, they feel they have maintained control of you, and you are now their willing puppet.  They have also theoretically kept the vehicle safer while the wheel was in your crazed, madman hands.
The Bad - Boring!  Uninformative! It doesn't actually do any of what the salesperson thinks it does! I think the boring part should be pretty self-explanatory.  As for uninformative, have you learned how the vehicle corners at speed? How does it accelerate to highway speeds?  What about how it does on the highway? What about transitional turns? The answers to all of those questions remain a mystery to you, the potential buyer.  As for the other stuff, I doubt you have enough information to make a buying decision.  Unless of course, parking in the "sold" spot gave you a sense of ownership.  Right...I didn't think so either.  So, was the salesperson really in control?  In a very literal sense, of course not.  Not unless he is selling you one of those driver's ed cars that has two steering wheels, and he can take command at any point.  However, you are probably not clay in his grubby little hands just yet.
The Conclusion - Nobody wins with this type of test drive.

The Loner (or Loaner):
This is the one where the salesperson throws you the keys and says "have fun, see you soon!".  You go where you want, aren't bothered by the sleazy car salesperson, and can melt the tires off of the vehicle if you want (not really, they'll sue, but you get the point).  Sounds great, right?

The Good - As I mentioned, no sleazy salesperson telling you what to do.  That's good right?  Maybe, but I'll touch on that in a minute.  You can drive the vehicle the way you normally drive, which will provide you quite a bit of information.
The Bad - Let's assume you have lucked into a good salesperson that day.  They will be able to provide additional information on this vehicle that up until now, you have only been reading about.  You read it had Electronic Brakeforce Distribution online, but what is that?  How will you know when it is working, or happening?  A good salesperson, can answer that for you.  Perhaps you didn't take it on the highway.  Without a salesperson to suggest different types of driving, you won't know as much about the car's capabilities and features (and how they are a benefit to YOU!).
The Conclusion - Certainly better than the Traditional test drive, but there are still definite deficiencies in this type of test drive.

Goldilock's Test Drive:
Ok, there may be another name for this, but it's my blog so nah nah nahnah nah.  This type of test drive has me asking you what type of driving you usually do.  Using that information I suggest a route that incorporates all the elements of a test drive that will provide you the answers you seek (cornering at speed, highway speeds, highway driving, transitional turns, stop and go traffic).  I have YOU drive off the lot.  Why?  I trust my customers and allow you the freedom to deviate from any particular route (so you too have some sense of control), and provide valuable information as conditions or questions arise.  I also provide directions as needed (not everyone wants to drive about willy nilly).

The Good - You get a true sense of what the capabilities and driving dynamics of the vehicle are.  Plus, you get to ask pertinent questions about the car in real time, which I will then answer (brilliantly, of course).  I'll politely point out certain features (Blind Spot Monitoring perhaps) to enhance your understanding of your new car (see what I did there).
The Bad - Not as many right hand turns? Actually, this is mostly for me.  I'm not in control, since I'm not the one driving. Sure I'm suggesting routes, etc, but you could kidnap me!  SIDE NOTE: DON'T KIDNAP ME!!!
The Conclusion - This mix is Just Right.  It offers you the most information on the vehicle you are test driving.  It allows you to trust me, and for me to trust you in return.  We learn about each other during this test drive, which makes other parts of buying a car easier.

As always, I'm hoping that I'll be the one that is test driving a car with you, but you the customer have the right to demand the "Just Right" test drive from any salesperson.  However, I guaruntee you'll get it with me.  Now where did I leave my porridge....

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Too Good To Be True and other Dirty Tricks

Hey everybody!  It's me, Dave!

There are things that some dealerships do to get people into the door that I don't like.  Let me be clear, they aren't necessarily breaking any laws, nor are they inherently bad people.  Unfortunately these things often work, I just don't like or respect these things.


The Advertised Price
Fair warning everyone; If a deal is too good to be's because it isn't true.  I'm not saying that they are lying.  However, the deal being advertised is only applicable to a very, very select group of people.  For example, let's say someone is looking at one of my larger crossovers.  The sticker price is about $33,000, and so at my dealership we advertise $33,000.  A competing dealership (maybe in a bigger town) advertises the same new vehicle at $31,000!  That's less expensive and you should definitely go buy it there, right?

Well, maybe...

If you scroll down to the bottom of their advertised price for that vehicle, there will be an "*".  Next to said asterisk, it will say something akin to the following:

"Price includes ALL manufacturers rebates and incentives.  All rebates are in lieu of special financing. Subject to approval, blah blah blah...."

Ok, I made up the blah blah blah, but the rest is there.  So how do they get to that sale price?

Upon Further Examination:
$33,000     MSRP
$   -500     Owner loyalty
$   -500     Military discount
$ -1,000    Trade in bonus when trading in a specific vehicle(s).
$31,000     The advertised price!!!

So my customer goes down there, and asks for the advertised price.  The other salesperson says, "No problem.  Please let me see your current registration showing you own a car the same make as the one you are buying for the Owner Loyalty.  I will also need to see your Military ID and LES (Leave and Earnings Statement) for the Military Discount.  Finally let me go evaluate your trade that is one of the specific ones for which I can give you the bonus."

IF, they have all of that, they get the price.  If not, then the conversation goes like this...

"I'm sorry Mr. Customer, I cannot give you the owner loyalty discount since you don't currently own one of our vehicles. And since you are not in the military, I cannot give your that discount.  Oh, and since your trade is either non-existent or not the right model from a certain set of years, I cannot give your the trade in bonus.  The price of the vehicle is $33,000.

Wait, what?!?  That's right, they advertised a price that most people won't be able to qualify for.  Oh and I've spoken about dealer fees in previous blogs, well it turns out that their dealer fee is $300 more than mine.  Soooo, you Mr. Customer just traveled a few hours to pay more money.  To be fair I did warn you.  Oh, and if they do qualify for those rebates and bonuses at that dealership, then they qualify for them at mine.  So, they still traveled a few hours to pay more money.  Again, I warned you.

Why do they do this?  Well, as I said, unfortunately it works.  They also aren't worried about upsetting someone.  They disclosed all of this on the website, you just didn't read carefully enough.  Or you were hoping so badly for the "too good to be true" to be true, that some part of your brain blocked it out.  Some people will then pay more since they drove all that way, or don't want to be embarrassed by coming back to me and admitting they didn't get the deal they were expecting.  But don't be embarrassed.  Come back, the deal is still good here.  I'm happy to sell it to you.

The Big Sale!
This idea is that there are times of the year when dealerships have the absolute lowest sale prices EVER!  Have you noticed that it seems to happen every month?  Every. Single. Month.  Yeah....

What is really happening here?  It could be that they have a few old models leftover that they are truly blowing out.  But it will only be on those few specific cars.  If you want a different color or trim level, well back to full price for you.  Perhaps they've gotten a little extra money from the manufacturer that they can pass on to you the customer, so...SALE!  Or perhaps, they've had that money all month anyway, but they want to get a few more sales at the beginning or end of a month, or quarter, or the year.  So...SALE!  Can this work to your benefit?  Of course, but depending on what you're looking for, a deal in December isn't necessarily any better than one in March.  Especially since they'll have some sort of deal next month, and the month after that.  I'm not saying that next months deal will be better, or worse, or exactly the same.  But, don't let that influence when you buy.  Trust me, you can get the deal of a lifetime at any point.  (see )

If you let balloons, hot dogs, or a giant inflatable gorilla make your buying decisions, you're in trouble.  Find a Salesperson you can trust, do your research, and make the right decision for you.  A good salesperson will not only respect that, they will help you along the way.

Lower prices because of selling Volume!
This one always kills me.  "They can lose money to sell me a car because they sell in volume."  Work that through.  Can you buy apples from the orchard for $1, and then sell them for 75 cents but make money because you sell more of the $1 apples at 75 cents? NO!  You're still losing 25 cents per apple.  But somehow in car sales it makes sense?

Yes, that was the hyperbolic version of the story, however that doesn't make it untrue.  No, dealers don't sell cars at a loss to every customer.  Yes, they can get some money from the manufacturer if they sell a certain amount of cars.  But what makes you think you're the one that is getting it over on the volume dealership?  That's like going to Vegas and thinking you're the one that will beat the casino.  The house wins...always.  And they should.  It's a for profit business.  If they don't make a profit, they won't stay in business.  Inevitably, the response is, "Fine, let them make money off the next sucker, but not me!"  To which I say, "Sorry, we lost money on the last customer, you'll have to make up for that."  Full disclosure...I don't say that.

Here's the scoop.  Every dealer of a particular brand pays the same amount for the cars as any other dealer for that same brand does.  Being in a bigger market, or a bigger dealer doesn't mean the bigger dealer buys the cars from the manufacturer cheaper, and so can sell them cheaper.  Doesn't happen.  If a dealer is losing money on a deal, it's because they've determined it's something they are will to do on that one deal.  It's not an ongoing policy.

"That's ok, Dave, we'll show up at the end of the month when they are trying to hit that number!"  Well, how will you know whether they've hit their number or not?  Maybe they haven't and you get lucky.  Or maybe they had a good month already and have no incentive to lose money on you at this point.  Again, we're back to the other blog post of how to buy a car from me (see link above).  This relates back to the first part of the blog with those "too good to be true" prices from other dealers.  Say it with me, "If it's too good to be true, that's because it isn't true".


So, is any of this illegal?  No.  Is it unethical?  Maybe?  I'm not going to go that far.  Do I think these are poor methods of dealing with potential customers?  Yes.  That's why I don't do that.  Find a Salesperson you can trust.  Develop a relationship.  Everyone can win that way.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Soul Red!

When did I become a guy that drives a red car?  I've never had a red car.  The closest I've ever had was a maroon Toyota pickup.  It was a 1985 regular cab, with no A/C, and a sliding opening in the back window (which I could and did occasionally break into when I had locked my keys in the car).

But now...
I call him Carlos Danger Rohe.  He was made in Mexico, and Danger is his middle name!

That is my brand new 2015 Mazda3 iSport with dark grey alloys, tint, and added Navigation.  And it's RED!!!  Well, Soul Red with Sand cloth interior to be exact.  And I'll probably put leather in it eventually.  Manual transmission of course (anyone that knows me would simply say, "well,duh").  I'd wonder if it was a mid-life crisis, except it's too soon for that (hopefully), and wouldn't my 1994 Miata M-Edition be more mid-life crisis-y?  No sir, this beauty is actually practical! It's rated at 29 city/41 highway/33 Combined, and that's less than the 30/41/34 the automatic gets [June 2015 UPDATE - I'm getting 35 Combined!].  So, since I've gone to the trouble of buying a new car just to be informative to you, dear reader, I thought it would be a good topic for supplementing the previous SkyActiv blogs.

The SkyActiv Part
What is SkyActiv?  We've had them on the lot since 2012, and we still get asked that everyday.  Rather than go into detail here, I'll direct you to my previous post "It's SkyActiv...Wait, What?"

So what is different from before?  Well the 2012-2013 smiley-faced, SkyActiv Mazda3's only had the new engine and transmission.  That put the MPG ratings at 28/40  The new 2014 and newer have the entire suite of SkyActiv goodness.  Engine, transmission, body, chassis, suspension, etc.  Plus the new Kodo "Soul of Motion" design is more aerodynamic.  They used more high tensile steel in the frame.  They made an already efficient transmission more efficient.  The result is the increase in fuel economy.  As for how it is to row through the gears?  They based the shifter throw and shifter gates on the current 3rd Generation Mazda MX-5 Miata.  That's simply crazy!

You want specs? Mine has a 2.0L 4cylinder with 155 hp and 150 #ft of torque.  So is it fast?  No, but it is quick.  It's very Miata like in that respect.  Not particularly fast, but feels faster than it is, and it is fun to drive. [Note: Mazda also makes a 2.5L engine with 184 hp and 185 #ft of torque].  It has a 6-speed manual (or more often an automatic) transmission that will rev plenty high, though if you do some of those gas savings go out the window.  Remember the high tensile steel I mentioned?  That helps get the curb weight to 2,854 lbs.  Pretty light for a sedan.  Plus it uses regular 87 grade gasoline.

"87 grade gasoline" you say, "So what?"  Well....
A few years ago, all the car companies were shooting for the magical 40 mpg mark in their compact cars.  Some dumped some ballast (i.e. got rid of their spare tires), some used high profile tires (say goodbye to your handling), or put in a turbo-charged engine.  Now there is nothing wrong with a turbo, and they can be fuel efficient depending on how you drive them.  Get into the boost too often, and those gas savings will start to disappear.  There are even some turbos that don't require premium fuel, but they work better if you do.  Mazda was able to get the good mpg's with out sacrificing or compromising, and used none of those other little cheats to get to the numbers.  Speaking of cheating, there were two companies that actually fudged the numbers...twice.  I won't name names, but they rhyme with Tia and Blondai.

The Driving part
I've had it a few weeks now, and most of the time, I'm playing with getting better gas mileage.  That's a new phenomenon for me.  But, often enough my inner driver screams at me to have a bit more fun (within the legal limits, of course).  What I found is there isn't a big difference between my Miata and the Mazda3 when shifting.  It's a 6-speed versus a 5-speed, and reverse is in a different spot, but it's still crisp and quick.  This car actually has quite a few more horses than the Miata, though it is also heavier.  Off the line, the Miata is quicker, but the Mazda3 is faster.  Being a FWD vehicle is also a bit of an adjustment, but the car corners very well (with or without the traction control on).  The word that came to mind was composed.  I can take the Miata to the edge much easier than the Mazda3 (well, duh).  However, the Mazda3 is still a Mazda.  It has Zoom Zoom, and is a blast to drive.

The Techie Part
The new Mazda Connect system, and the Commander Control Switch are fantastic.  The 7-inch screen is nicely (and safely) placed atop a small recess on top of the dash (a bit BMW-ish).  The Bluetooth connectivity allows you to stream your music from your phone, access Pandora, Aha, and Stitcher radio.  The optional Navigation is by MapQuest and is easy, intuitive, and nice to look at.  You can voice command just about anything to do with the Mazda Connect system, but I usually find myself using the Commander Control Switch.  With dedicated Home, Music and Nav buttons, as well as Favorites and Back buttons, it is very easy to navigate.  Favorites...that's the new thing to get used to in this car.  No preset radio stations.  You have favorites for stations, favorites for contacts, and favorites for Nav destinations.  Much more computer or app-like than typical car stereo systems.  Mine doesn't have the backup camera or Blind Spot Monitoring, but those are very nice if equipped.

The You Buying One part
So despite all of the above, I'm a car salesman.  Why should you listen to me?  Well, you can go read why here, or you can realize that I decided to pay my own money for one, or you can NOT take my word for it and look at what everyone else is saying about this car.

Here is a list of Awards this car has already garnered:
  • Road & Track "Best of Everything" - Best Economy Car
  • A Car and Driver 2014 "10Best"
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick+ (With available Smart City Brake Support. Models built after Oct 2013)
  • 2014 ALG Residual Value Award - Compact Car segment
  • 2015 ALG Residual Value Award - Compact Car segment
  • One of the "2014 Most Popular on" Compact Cars
  • A 2014 "Top Rated Sedan/Hatchback"
  • A 2014 AUTOMOBILE Magazine All-Star
  • #1 on's "10 Coolest New Cars Under $18,000" list for 2014
  • #1 on's "10 Coolest New Cars Under $18,000" list for 2015
  • #1 on U.S. News & World Report's annual list of "Best Cars for Families"
  • #1 on U.S. News & World Report's annual list of "Best Cars for the Money" Compact Car
  • "Best Compact Car" in MotorWeek's "Drivers Choice Awards"
  • Kiplingers 2014 Best New Car under $20,000
  • On Ward's "10 Best Interiors" List
  • On AutoTraders "Must Test Drive" List
  • 2014 World Car of the Year Finalist
  • 2014 World Car Design of the Year Finalist
And I probably forgot some!

So, why not come buy one?  I did!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Buying a car...from Me!!!

Tips on buying a Mazda from me  
Or a used vehicle for that matter...

Well of course from me! I'm not here to get you to buy a car from someone else!  Though I suppose other salespeople may appreciate it as well.  Plenty of what follows may seem to be self-serving and to a certain extent it is, but I promise that it will help you, the customer, as well.

1. Take the day off of work and come see me on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.

There are many reasons for this tip.  
  • Friday and Saturday are obviously our busy days, so if you really want me to take my time to help you as much as I possibly can, don't show up when everyone else is showing up.  
  • Why not Monday then?  Monday is the day that we are often finishing deals up from the weekend.  We probably have deliveries scheduled and again, I can devote more time to you on the other days.  
  • Why should you take off of work?  Because buying a car is a process.  It is nearly impossible to do in the time between when you get out of your 9 to 5 job, make it over here, and when we close at 7pm.  Will I stay late?  Of course, but just as I plan to take my time with you and give you all the respect you deserve, it's easier for me to do that if I'm not missing my very late dinner and time with my family.  Even car salespeople deserve respect, despite what you read online.
  • The service department will be open.  That means I can properly introduce you to the people you will be dealing with months down the road.  I'm very fortunate that my service department has an excellent staff and reputation, and I want to be the one to introduce you to them.
  • Will I sell you a car on Monday, Friday or Saturday?  Well, of course.  Don't be silly.

2. Don't come in with an UNHEALTHY and UNPRODUCTIVE attitude.
  • I joke that the first part of my job is to make people stop acting like they've just stepped into the ring with Clubber Lang (that's a Rocky 3 reference for the younger people...look it up).  I don't want to fight with you.  I want to sell you a car, and more importantly, I want you to feel you had the best car buying experience of your life.  Why?  Because if you do, you're more likely to buy another vehicle from me down the road.  You'll be more inclined to recommend me to your friends and family as the guy who made the process easy.  That means I make more money.  It has the added benefit of me feeling good about my profession.
  • What is your natural reaction to a person that is standoff-ish, or even antagonizing?  Do you want to help them?  Will you go the extra mile for a person that is not treating you with respect?  No.  And I don't want to either.  The Golden Rule doesn't stop when you step on to a car lot.
  • I understand the the car business has quite the bad reputation.  Heck, there are still plenty of dealerships that I would consider to be shady.  But, I don't work at those dealerships.  I'm about to celebrate my 3 year anniversary (update: over 4 years now - Editor Dave) here at Gem Mazda.  That's a long time for a salesperson to be at one dealership.  I've told many customers (some that bought and others that didn't) that I work here for a reason.  I like the way we do business.  I never have to feel bad about what we do here.  And I hear stories, about other dealerships, which is why I'm staying right where I am.
  • If you feel that we shouldn't make any money on a deal, how are we supposed to stay in business, so that we can continue to sell YOU cars over the years.  The attitude of "just make it up on the next guy" doesn't work.  Why?  Well what if you're the next guy?  Do I get to say that we sold the last guy at full sticker, so you we can lose money on?  Even better, do I get to tell you that the last guy didn't let us make any money, so sorry you'll have to pay extra?  Of course not.  It's an antagonistic and unproductive way of dealing with anyone.

3. I don't have supernatural powers to make you buy a car.
  • Tell me your name.  Answer my questions.  Come inside.  All of the things I say or do, are to help you figure out which vehicle will work best for you.  Here's the dirty little secret no one believes.  I can't make you do anything you don't want to do!  If I could, my job would be SOOOO much easier. By giving me information, you're allowing me to help you more effectively.  That's it.  
  • Hopefully you're on my lot to buy a car (even if it's not that day).  I have to be here all day, but you don't, so don't make it more difficult.  Help me to help you.  I need to know what it is you want to accomplish, so that I can help make that happen, assuming it is even remotely possible.  

4. What I need to know and why:

  • What car do you want/need/desire?  Are you looking for new or used? Sedan, hatchback, SUV, truck or convertible?  4, 6 or 8 cylinder?  Blue, silver or chartreuse? Is the car for you, your significant other, your child, your dog?  Who?  I need to know this so we can maximize your time in finding the correct vehicle.
  • Do you have a tag to transfer or need a new tag? In Florida there is about a $250 difference between the two.  That affects your bottom line.  And it is State regulated, meaning I can't make money off your taxes, tag, title or registration. 
  • If you're financing, I need to know what your credit is like.  This affects the rate you're financing at, which in turn affects your payment.  Additionally the lender may only approve you with money down.  But I won't know that until we take a look.
  • I need to know that you what you're looking to spend.  Otherwise we may be looking at the wrong vehicle.  If you have expectations of a $200 payment on a fully loaded Mazda6, we need to reassess your mental condition or at least your math skills, because that isn't going to happen (unless you have whatever down payment would be necessary to get you to that payment).  If I know your budget I can help find a car in the correct price range for that payment.  But speaking of money down...
  • I need to know if you're planning on putting money down.  Here's another secret.  I don't care if you put money down or not.  I know many of us can't afford to do so.  However, let me know since it will change the payments I show you.  Not because you'll get a better or worse deal, but because of math.  Of course, you may not have a choice if the lender requires money down from you.  
  • If need to know if you're financing, or paying cash.  I need to know that, because we often have different incentives based on which way you are wanting to buy.  Note: the days of "Cash is King" are over.  In the old days, it took a long time to get the money from the banks.  Now we have electronic funds transfers, so it doesn't take any longer that depositing your check.  Actually we usually make more money if you finance!
  • I need to know if you are trading in your current car and what you are expecting to get for it.  There is a school of thought that says to hold your trade out of the deal.  The idea is to work me to death on the one you are buying, and then let me know about the trade, and ask for the top dollar on your trade.  That just creates friction.  Here's why.  If I sell you a car at wholesale, I'm not giving you retail for your trade.  Dealerships are in the business to make money (see the last bullet point under #2).  If you want retail for your trade, then I want retail on my sale.  If you want to buy at invoice, then I need to show you wholesale for your trade.  Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? 
  • Do you owe any money on your trade?  If you do, guess what?  We have to pay off the lien holder before any remaining equity can be applied to your deal.  Conversely, if you have negative equity (owe more than it is worth), that still has to happen, which means your new purchase goes up the exact amount your are "upside-down" in your current loan.
  • When are you planning on making a purchase?  If it is anytime later than the end of whatever month we are in...the numbers I will give you won't be any good.  Incentives from the manufacturer change monthly.  Your trade value also changes all the time.  I'm not opposed to helping a customer that isn't buying for another 3 months, but let me know that.  If it is today, let me know that as well.
In conclusion
I'm certain I've forgotten some stuff.  I'm sure I'll get negative feedback from the people who hate sales people, and car sales people in particular.  But, hopefully this can help you when you go to buy a car.  I can't guarantee that your salesperson works the same way I do.  I can't say that they aren't at one of the shady dealerships.  But if they are...maybe you should just come buy a car from me.  I've already told you how to do it!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Truly Greener Vehicle is SkyActiv Blue

Today I am going to compare the 2013 Mazda3 SkyActiv and the 2013 Toyota Prius Two.

"Why would you do that, Dave?", you say.

"Well...", I say.

You then interrupt me to say, "The Mazda3 has more power, better handling, and is more fun to drive.  It's not really a fair comparison!  You're not being very kind to the poor Prius."

"Well..." I start to say, waiting for you to interrupt again, but this time you're looking at me like I'm crazy.  No really, your mouth is hanging open, your eyes darting back and forth...I digress. "I'm going to explain why it's also a more economically and environmentally sound choice, not just more fun to drive."

Let's set aside all the things that we Mazda-ites love about our cars (handling, reliability, fun, ZoomZoom).  Instead, let's just look at cost/fuel economy.  On the surface the Prius is the winner with an EPA combined average of 50 mpg.  The poor Mazda3 iSport w/SkyActiv is only rated at a combined 32 mpg.  However the MSRP for the Prius Two is $24,765, and the Mazda3 is $20,020 (both prices include destination fees and are the base trim level for the better fuel economy).  Taking into account the MSRP's, the EPA Combined MPG ratings, and $3.95 per gallon gasoline, let's see how they stack up financially...

As you can see, it would take 7.12 years for the Prius to draw even with the Mazda3 economically (MSRP and fuel costs).  This doesn't even take into account other vehicle costs.  So let's look at the difference using's 5 year cost to own number (

So taking into account other costs, we almost double the amount of years it takes the Prius to merely equal the Mazda3 SkyActiv.  That also puts it outside of the 8 year/100,000 mile warranty on the Prius battery.

"But Dave!", you shout, "I don't care about the money.  I want the get the Prius because it's good for the environment!".

This brings a few things to mind for me.  First, why are you yelling at me?  Second, is the Prius really all that green?  Well, here is information on the magical journey the Prius takes on the way to the Showroom.
  • The battery packs are either NiMH (Nickel) or Lithium-Ion and these metals put 10 times the amount of sulfer-oxide emissions than conventional vehicles.
  • The Lithium or the Nickel is mined in China, where they don't particularly worry about environmental hazards (take a look at the news and their air pollution).  It used to be mined in Ontario, Canada. 
  • The metal is then shipped via big boat to Europe to be refined, before then being shipped to China (again on big boats) to be made into a foam-like material.
  • It is then sent to Japan to be made into the battery and put in the vehicles.  Which are then shipped to the United States.  On a big boat.
And yes, other vehicles also get materials and finished products shipped by big boat.  But thanks to the extra processes required to make the Prius battery packs, these things are not equal.

It's these types of issues that prompted Mazda to take a more gradual approach to increasing fuel economy. Will we ever have a hybrid or an EV?  Probably.  But I'm willing to bet that the Mazda Executives will tell (or have told) the Mazda Engineers the same thing they told them before developing the SkyActiv systems.  Hit the MPG goal, but don't sacrifice power, handling, safety, or driving experience.

So SkyActiv Mazda owners, stand tall and be proud.  You're driving fun cars for the environment!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

It's SkyActiv!!! Wait...what?

Most of you know that I am the Internet Sales Specialist at Gem Mazda, in Tallahassee, FL.  While specializing on selling the entire internet is time consuming, I do occasionally sell a car or two.  When it comes to new Mazda vehicles, the question I get asked more than almost any other is..."yeah, SkyActiv...what is that?".

The way I heard it told (or at least how I play the movie in my head), is the Mazda executives went to the engineers and told them:
  • You must make the Mazda3 hit the 40 mpg mark.
  • You may not sacrifice power.
  • You may not take shortcuts, like "eco" buttons or high profile tires.
  • You may not sacrifice safety (okay, that one's obvious).
Easy, right?  Well, if it was so easy, why is it that Mazda's competition did some of the following to hit the 40 mpg mark:
  • Used smaller, less powerful engines.
  • Have an "eco" button that takes power away from the engine to limit fuel consumption
  • Use high profile tires that detract from the vehicles' handling
  • Not include a spare tire to save weight (an inflation kit won't do much for a shredded tire)
  • Or even have procedural errors in determining the mpg's.*
So, how DID Mazda do it?  
(WARNING - The following is a little bit technical and long, but still interesting).

The Sky-G Engine
  • Direct Fuel Injection - Many cars are fuel injected, but Mazda used a multi-hole injector port (6 actually) that sprays the fuel into the cylinders at high pressure.  Think of it like a garden hose.  If you just have the end open when the water is coming out you waste a lot of water.  However if you put on a shower type nozzle, you increase the pressure of the water, and there is less waste.

  • High Compression Ratio - A 14:1 compression ratio (13:1 in the U.S. version due to 87 grade fuel) results in more power (torque) for the fuel being used.  If you get more power out of each say ounce of fuel, you are increasing the efficiency of the fuel burned.
  • Volcano top piston - Mazda added a volcano-like pocket at the top of the dome of the piston to allow the spark to...well spark, with excessive heating of the top of the piston, meaning that the energy of that spark doesn't dissipate over the top of the piston, reducing loss of energy.  Less energy lost, means better combustion of the fuel, allowing for a more efficient use of the fuel, again.

  • 4-2-1 Exhaust Manifold - A high compression ratio usually results in a thing called "knock" in vehicles that don't use higher grade gasoline (93 or better).  Knock is pre-ignition of the fuel that is the result of a rise in the temperature of fuel/air mixture from the previous combustion cycle.  Mazda wanted the SkyActiv engine to be able to run on regular ol' 87 grade gasoline however, so they used the 4-2-1 exhaust to allow for the combustion heat from the previous cycles to be removed, so they don't impact the following combustion cycles.  Told you it would get technical.
  • Electric Sequential Valve Timing - Very simply, making sure the valves open at the exact point for maximum power and fuel economy, with minimum emissions.  Otherwise you may have energy loss through unnecessary air movement in the intake system.

The SkyActiv Transmissions

SkyActiv-Drive (the Automatic one) - Mazda used the best aspects of the the traditional step transmission, the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), and the Dual Clutch Transmission, in developing the new 6-speed SkyActiv Drive Transmission (see the chart - from Mazda Fuel magazine).

The benefits include:

  • Better torque-transfer over a 5-speed automatic resulting in 4% - 7% increase in fuel economy.
  • Direct feel (more like a Manual transmission) in how it drives
  • Smooth upshifting
  • Rev matching downshifts
  • Improved fuel efficiency from reduced slippage in the torque converter.
  • Minimal Noise, Vibration, and Harshness (NVH).

SkyActiv-MT (the Manual one) - The story of the MT is simpler, but no less impressive.  Like the engine, they reduced the weight while making the materials stronger, and reduced internal friction.  The real benefit for those of us that enjoy driving manual transmission is the shorter shift-throws in the new MT.  The goal of the engineers was to make it feel like the iconic Mazda MX5 Miata.  They ended up with a 45-mm throw for that quick Miata like shifting.

SkyActiv Body - Through the used of more 50% more high-tensile steel throughout the redesigned frame, the SkyActiv Body is 30% more rigid, 8% lighter, and even safer than the previous incarnation.  The result is a lighter, but safer body that contributes to the fuel efficiency of the overall product.

SkyActiv Chassis - The diagram will give you all the information you need, but I will add the following:  New suspension geometry, electric power steering (EPS), more rigidity and 14% less weight keep in line with the other components in reducing weight, while improving performance and fuel efficiency as a result.

So, that's SkyActiv.  It's way more info than I would convey to a customer on the lot, but perhaps they'll read this and get a better understanding of what I meant when I said, "It's a whole bunch of little things, that add up to better fuel efficiency, without sacrificing power or performance."  For more information, check out MazdaUSA's official website for SkyActiv info.

Until next time, the SkyActiv is the limit!!!

(Much of this information came from the Summer 2012 Mazda Fuel Magazine, so thanks to Mazda for great vehicles, and the information).

* LA Times Article

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The "Medition"

Dave's 1994 Mazda Miata M-Edition at Wiregrass Autocross

As I mentioned in the "Welcome" blog post, I own a 1994 Miata M-Edition.  Or as it is known at Gem Mazda, the Medition (meh-dih-shun).  While I'd like to think that I could do an entire post on just my car, it would probably be better to include information on more than just my Miata.  So, we will touch on some history of the Miata and the First Generation (NA's), as well as digging in further on the M Editions.

A Brief and Incomplete History*
The Mazda Miata (or MX5, depending on where it was being sold), made it's way to dealerships in the U.S. in May of 1989, though it was a 1990 Model year.  Based on the British and Italian Roadsters that had all but disappeared, it won over the hearts of the driving public quickly.  So quickly in fact, that demand outstripped production initially.

Roadsters, like the MG B, the Lotus Elan, and the Alfa Romeo Spider, while beloved had fallen by the way.  And let's be honest, while they were nice to look at, and fun to drive, they were missing one very critical ingredient...reliability.  When asked by Mazda what type of project the company should be working on, a team of California designers suggested a roadster.  We take the Miata as a foregone conclusion now, but back then, Bob Hall had quite the time convincing the Mazda executives to take a chance on the car.  So, he did what everyone who has tried to explain the appeal of this automobile to someone has done...he got them to drive it.  Even then, they told them to make it inexpensive.

What they came up with was a car that took it's cues mostly from the Lotus Elan.  They made sure a few key  components made up this gamble.  Rear wheel drive.  Convertible.  Lightweight 50/50 ratio.  And for the last  23 years they've kept to those components, making the MX5 Miata, the Best-Selling Sports Car in history, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.  I guess Bob and crew knew what they were doing.

First Generation 1990-1997 (NA)
The First Generation of the Miata, also known as NA's (because they all have NA in the Vehicle Identification Number), were a game changer. They had classic styling, pop-up headlights, and were fun to drive. Most importantly, they were an affordable, convertible, sports car, when there was a distinct lack of such in the market.

From 1990 to 1993 Mazda used an 1.6L 4-cylinder engine to power the small roadster. By small, I mean it only weighed 2,150 lbs. With the addition of some safety features in the 1994 model year the weight of the vehicle went up, but so did the power. Starting in 1994 Mazda put in the 1.8L 4-cylinder that would stay in the vehicle for the next 12 years. 1994 was the first year to have dual airbags, and a limited slip differential. It was the year that introduced the "R" package (Bilstein shocks, no power steering). 1994 was also the last year that Mazda included an actual Oil Pressure gauge with numbers rather than just Low/High. It was also the first of the M Editions.

There were minor changes through 1998, but the body style was the same.

The M Editions**
From 1994 through 1997, Mazda produced limited quantities of Miata's known as M Editions. Each was a special color, only available that year in the M Edition. They had special badging, and other special features (such as Nardi Shift knobs, and wooden E-brake handles).

1994 - Montego Blue (3,000 production run)
1995 - Merlot Mica (3,500 production run)
1996 - Starlight Blue Mica (2,968 production run)
1997 - Marina Green Mica (3,002 production run)

The "Medition"
Mine is not perfect. There is plenty for me to do to it as I can. The seats need to be fixed. I've installed an aftermarket stereo (though to be fair there was a not-as-nice aftermarket stereo already in it when I bought it). It has a few scratches, though I have touch up paint, and a few hail-like dents in the hood that need to be PDR'd. is attention getting. The Montego Blue stands out among other Miatas, as does the M Edition script badging, and the wooden Nardi shift knob. Most importantly, it does what every MX5 Miata does...puts a smile on your face when you drive it!

With the Top Down and Loving it,
Love live the King of Sports Cars

For additional information:
   *  Wikipedia - Miata
  **  M-Edition Field Guide