TIME Autos

Here Are the Best and Worst Car Brands For 2015

A customer checks out the interior of a Lexus RX270 vehicle for sale inside a Lexus automobile dealership, a unit of Toyota Motor Corp., in Moscow, Russia, on Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Surging borrowing costs pile pressure on the economy of the world's biggest energy exporter, buckling under the weight of slumping crude prices and the impact of the sanctions imposed over the conflict in Ukraine. Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg
Andrey Rudakov—© 2014 Bloomberg Finance LP Lexus topped the list for consumer satisfaction this year, according to latest Consumer Reports study.

Consumer Reports results are based on consumer feedback

Consumer Reports polls over 4,000 people each year to find the best and worst car brands, and the results are in for 2015.

On the whole, the results aren’t good for the automobile industry. The magazine’s American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) shows consumer satisfaction fell 3.7% this year to 79 on the index’s 100-point scale, down for a third-straight year and hitting the lowest point since 2004. The decline isn’t surprising, given the huge number of recalls—a 40% increase over 2014, according to the ACSI survey—coupled with price gains.

The five worst performing brands include Fiat, Chrysler, Jeep, MINI, and Dodge. Those brands brought up the rear, though poor consumer satisfaction doesn’t necessarily translate into lower sales. Fiat Chrysler, which owns Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler, and Fiat, posted a poor overall showing in consumer satisfaction (down 5%), yet the company’s sales have gained year over year. Last year, Fiat Chrysler sold 2.09 million cars, up from 1.8 million in 2013 and 1.65 million in 2012.

Here are the top 10 highest-rated car brands:

1. Lexus (Toyota)

ACSI Score: 84

Year-over-year change: 0%

2. Acura (Honda)

ACSI Score: 83

Year-over-year change: 8%

3. Lincoln (Ford)

ACSI Score: 83

Year-over-year change: N/A

4. Mercedes-Benz (Daimler)

ACSI Score: 83

Year-over-year change: -3%

5. BMW

ACSI Score: 82

Year-over-year change: 3%

6. Subaru

ACSI Score: 82

Year-over-year change: -4%

7. Toyota

ACSI Score: 82

Year-over-year change: -1%

8. Hyundai

ACSI Score: 81

Year-over-year change: 0%

9. Buick (GM)

ACSI Score: 80

Year-over-year change: -4%

10. Cadillac (GM)

ACSI Score: 80

Year-over-year change: 0%


Tesla Broke the Consumer Reports Rating System

Yes, we're serious. Apparently, it's that good.

The new Tesla Model S P85D broke the Consumer Reports rating system by scoring 103 out of 100. Consumer Reports said it had to overhaul its rating system to accommodate the P85D’s combination of performance and efficiency. The model can go from zero to 60 in 3.5 seconds without using a single drop of gasoline. It gets the equivalent of 87 miles per gallon without sacrificing any horsepower. Despite the better-than-perfect score, the Tesla isn’t a better-than-perfect car. “The interior materials aren’t as opulent as other high-ticket automobiles, and its ride is firmer and louder than our base Model S,” Consumer Reports reported.

TIME Amazon

This Is How Much Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson Could Make From His New Amazon Show

Top Gear Festival Sydney
Brendon Thorne—Getty Images Jeremy Clarkson

It’s a ton of money

Former Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson will make £9.6 million ($14.7 million) to host a new car show on Amazon Prime, according to a report in the U.K.’s Telegraph newspaper.

Clarkson left Top Gear earlier this year after a series of controversies, including his getting into a fight with Oisin Tymon, one of the show’s producers. The BBC’s loss, however, is Amazon’s gain, as the online marketplace competes with other streaming firms such Netflix and Hulu for the most attractive content, and the BBC’s Top Gear show is one of its most popular offerings.

According to the report, Amazon will spend a total of £160 million ($246 million) on 36 episodes over three years, which will give the show a budget ten times as large per episode as it enjoyed on the BBC.


Ford Aims to Resurrect this Popular Pickup Truck

Ford Ranger
Swiegers, Waldo—Bloomberg Finance/Getty Images A 2015 Ford Ranger on display in Johannesburg, South Africa on Aug. 12, 2015.

The mid-size truck is set for a renaissance.

It looks like Ford is bringing back the Ranger, its compact pickup truck that enjoyed a long run in the U.S. between 1982 and 2011 before being exiled to overseas markets.

According to The Detroit News, the America’s second-largest automaker has been in talks with the United Auto Workers and aims to bring the truck to production at the Michigan Assembly Plant in 2018. The Ford Focus and C-Max are currently made at the Wayne, Mich., plant, and production of these vehicles could be shifted to Mexico if an agreement is reached over the Ranger.

There are several reasons Ford might want to resurrect the Ranger in the U.S. Though there’s a growing demand for small and mid-size trucks, there aren’t that many currently available. Reissuing the Ranger one would not only satisfy many consumers but also help Ford conform to fleet-wide fuel efficiency standards mandated by the federal government. The U.S. also has a heavy 25% tax on imported trucks, so it would be especially advantageous for Ford to make the lighter, lower-cost Ranger on home turf.

The Ranger’s possible return comes on the heels of the automaker saying in July it was pulling out of the Michigan plant completely in 2018. Ford employs around 4,500 workers there, and if a deal can’t be worked out, those jobs and the Ranger could both be lost.


1 in 5 Drivers Don’t Care About Fancy New Car Tech

Infotainment Apathetic Drivers Automakers
Cunningham, Harold—Getty Images A Mercedes-Benz in-vehicle infotainment screen is seen during the 85th International Motor Show on March 3, 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The most common reason cited for abandoning a tech feature? "Did not find it useful."

Today’s new cars come with all sorts of high-tech systems “infotainment”, parking assistance and heads-up displays, but a recent report from J.D. Power says a significant portion of consumers don’t use them.

On Tuesday, the marketing research firm released its Driver Interactive Vehicle Experience Report, detailing the habits of drivers in the first 90 days of new car ownership. The study found at least 20% of drivers never used 16 of the 33 features in question. Vehicle concierge, mobile routers, automatic parking, heads-up displays, and built-in apps led the list of superfluous automotive tech bogging down the driving experience. Considering the effort automakers put into these technologies, that’s significant money left on the table, especially since unused features may be outdated if and when they arrive at their second owner.

According to Kristin Kolodge, a J.D. Power executive director of driver interaction & HMI research, many drivers would rather use their phones and tech they already know. The most common reason cited for abandoning a tech feature? “Did not find it useful.”

Since many of these consumers told J.D. Power the technology “came as part of a package on my current vehicle and I did not want it,” it’s not just the carmakers that are losing out—a fifth of consumers are paying for these things they just don’t use. It’s costing everybody millions.


Toyota Could Ban Dealers From Advertising Below Invoice Price

Toyota Bans Advertising Below Invoice Pricing
Stroshane, Matt—Bloomberg/Getty Images Toyota dealers will no longer be able to advertise cars below invoice price.

Toyota set to follow Honda's lead.

While Lexus tests out a new, no-haggling policy at its dealerships, Toyota is keeping the haggle alive with a plan to prohibit dealers from advertising below invoice price.

Toyota dealers across the country told Automotive News that starting in January new guidelines from the car maker will explicitly prohibit them from advertising vehicles below invoice. They said they learned of the plan from national and regional Toyota sales representatives, who added that Toyota plans to release details at its National Dealer meeting next month. Toyota declined to comment on the plan, saying, “As is customary at our National Dealer Meeting, we will discuss a number of business-related topics, including marketing covenants.”

Since dealers get a check from the manufacturer each time they sell a car, they still make money off cars sold below invoice. For high-volume dealers, selling the majority of cars with a one-price strategy below invoice can make for good business and happy customers, who don’t have to get stressed out haggling. One high-volume dealer in Florida told Automotive News he doesn’t want to stop advertising the below invoice pricing because consumers would have a hard time searching online for cheaper local prices.

Other dealers back the proposed change, saying below invoice pricing encourages a “race to the bottom” and increases risk of bait-and-switch selling practices, when a customer will come in on the strength of an attractive advertisement and find the desired car unavailable and a more expensive option in its place.

Prohibiting the advertising of a below invoice price isn’t new. Honda has a similar ban in place and has implemented severe penalties like withdrawing marketing assistance of $400 per car if dealers break the marketing covenant three times by pricing too low.

Read next: This Car Safety Demo Went Terribly Wrong


Google Is Developing a System to Map Potholes Using a Car’s GPS

Google Pothole GPS Map Patent
Boston Globe/Getty Images Boston Public Works uses a Smartphone app to report potholes. Google has a new solution in the works.

It filed a patent for "systems and methods for monitoring and reporting road quality" last week.

Everyone hates potholes. They can spill your coffee, tax your suspension, and if you’re a cyclist, they can easily leave you with a broken collarbone.

Last week, Google filed a patent to help solve pothole problems, describing a system that uses the GPS from cars’ navigation systems in conjunction with another bump sensor that detects vertical movement to map out potholes. Then, the system uploads the data to the cloud.

Fixing potholes is simple—municipalities and states simply fill them in—but locating them is inefficient, usually relying on people to fill out a form and report them individually. If Google puts this technology into cars, an entire database of road condition would be available to the Department of Transportation, enabling it easily identify and prioritize problem areas.

As Autoblog notes, a patent isn’t a guarantee Google will actually develop this into a reality, but judging from Google’s forays into self-driving cars it seems likely.

TIME cybersecurity

The Guy Who Hacked Jeep’s Truck Just Quit Twitter

Chrysler Issues Recall On 850,000 Sport Utility Vehicles
Joe Raedle—Getty Images

He used to work for the NSA

Last month, Wired magazine filed a report in which two hackers detailed how they were able to take control of a Jeep Cherokee SUV over the Internet. One of the hackers, Charlie Miller, was also an engineer at Twitter.

Not anymore.

Miller, who used to work at the National Security Agency and is considered one of the world’s leading experts on cybersecurity, has left the social media company, according to Reuters. He didn’t comment on what he is planning to do next.

The hack on the Cherokee caused a recall of 1.4 million vehicles. Cybersecurity for connected cars is quickly becoming one of the most important issues facing automakers.

MONEY customer satisfaction

Car Buyers Haven’t Been This Unhappy In A Decade

new york cars
Getty Images

More cars are selling, but the buyers aren't happy.

Even though car sales are up, reaching towards totals not seen since before the credit crisis, all of those new car owners aren’t exactly happy with their purchases.

Owner satisfaction stood at 79 out of 100 points, down 3.7% from last year and the lowest score in a decade. Of the 27 brands tracked American Customer Satisfaction Index Automobile Report, 15 saw their satisfaction rating go down this year, according to NBC News.

A major reason for the drop in customer happiness? Recalls. There were a record 64 million recalls in 2014, led by the huge recall scandal at General Motors. Prices are also up, making it more difficult to meet customer expectations.

Foreign cars did better than American cars, with 77 percent of car models that received above-average satisfaction ratings being imports.

TIME Volkswagen

Volkswagen Spent Years Hiding This Huge Security Flaw

Volkswagen Group Delivers Over 9 Million Vehicles In 2012
Sean Gallup—Getty Images

The flaw enables the theft of many luxury, keyless vehicles, report says

2015 may go down as the year when we all realized that our cars are vulnerable to hackers.

First we had a report from a U.S. Senator on the security risks facing new car owners, and then the news that Fiat had recalled 1.4 million cars to address security flaws. And this week a paper is being presented at the USENIX security conference in Washington, D.C., on a security flaw affecting “thousands of cars from a host of manufacturers,” according to a Bloomberg News report.

We could have known about these risks for some time, as the paper was actually written two years ago, but car makers like Volkswagen fought in court to keep the information private. According to Bloomberg:

“Keyless” car theft, which sees hackers target vulnerabilities in electronic locks and immobilizers, now accounts for 42 percent of stolen vehicles in London. BMWs and Range Rovers are particularly at-risk, police say, and can be in the hands of a technically minded criminal within 60 seconds.

Security researchers have now discovered a similar vulnerability in keyless vehicles made by several carmakers. The weakness – which affects the Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) transponder chip used in immobilizers – was discovered in 2012, but carmakers sued the researchers to prevent them from publishing their findings.

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