Putting Members in the Driver’s Seat, Part IV: It’s Easy Being Green

Editor’s Note: Winter is Auto Show Season in the Pacific Northwest, with major gatherings planned for Portland and Spokane in the coming weeks. It’s also a great time for credit unions to court members with lower interest rates and friendlier loan terms than dealers or banks can offer. With that in mind, Anthem asked John M. Vincent, a nationally-recognized automotive journalist and a longtime Northwest credit union board member, to share his perspective on the latest trends in the auto industry. Look for more of his stories, photos and videos online at nwcua.org/auto-show.

Story and photos by John M. Vincent

Forget everything you thought you knew about diesel. The 2014 Audi A6 TDI is fast, quiet and touts impressive EPA mileage estimates of 24 mpg in the city and 38 on the highway.

Kermit the Frog used to sing “It’s not easy being green,” but if you’re a car buyer in today’s market, it’s certainly easy to buy green — and it’s getting easier every day.

Due to customer demand and regulatory pressures, there are efficient and clean options available in nearly every market segment. From the pure electric (and fun to drive) 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV to the ultra-luxury Lexus LS 600h L hybrid, automakers are racing to burnish their vehicle lineups with a patina of green.

The efficiency comes at a price, and that’s where your relationship with a credit union can help. Most of these new models are in high demand and don’t qualify for low- or no-interest financing from auto dealers. In that case, credit union members generally enjoy lower interest rates and friendlier loan terms than dealers or banks can offer. Plus, your money stays in the local community.

Even when incentives are offered, it’s often better to opt for a cash rebate rather than low-interest dealer financing. The lower initial cost of the vehicle, paired with attractive credit union interest rates, will frequently create a lower total cost of the vehicle over the life of the loan.

Members utilizing the auto broker services offered by many credit unions can save even more on popular vehicles. These auto buying professionals can use their market knowledge and experience to find the precise vehicles members want at a reasonable price, with less deference to a dealer’s preferred additional markup.

Finding the right time to buy is also a critical buying decision. Demand for high-mileage vehicles rises and falls right along with the price of fuel. Buying in the late fall and winter can be quite advantageous, when fuel prices usually dip to their lowest levels each year.

What is a “green vehicle?” The answer to that question is different for every driver. Some seek high mileage, others ultra-low emissions or minimal carbon footprint, while still more buyers look at the total cost of ownership. Fortunately, automakers are producing vehicles that fit all of these desires.

Let’s look at some of the newest options:

Often thought of as the greenest of green cars, the pure electric class has taken great strides forward in just the past year. These are cars that you charge at home or at public charging facilities and generally have ranges of 50-100 miles (depending on a number of factors.) Nissan Leafs were the first out of the gate, but the best now include the Chevy Spark EV, Honda Fit EV (lease only) and Ford Focus Electric. The diminutive smart EV is the only electric available as a convertible.

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Much of the structure of the 2014 BMW i3 will be made of carbon fiber produced at a plant in Moses Lake, Wash. All-electric range is expected to be around 100 miles, but a gasoline range extender engine will be available as an option.

Coming soon are electric versions of the Kia Soul and Volkswagen Golf. Many of the carbon fiber components for the BMW i3 electric are manufactured in the state of Washington.

The leading-edge Tesla Model S electric sedan touts an EPA-estimated range of up to 265 miles and is sold directly to consumers online, with or without the assistance of its boutique showrooms.

Hybrids, like the Northwest favorite Toyota Prius, are the most often thought of when the topic turns to gasoline-powered eco models. These vehicles use a traditional engine to drive the wheels and charge the battery pack, switching seamlessly to electric power to propel the car or assist the gasoline engine in doing so. There are now hybrid models in every segment, and some of the leaders include the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Volkswagen Jetta Turbo Hybrid and Ford Fusion Hybrid. Unique in the market is Subaru’s all-wheel drive XV Crosstrek Hybrid.

Not all hybrid systems are created equal. Some, like the hybrid synergy drive in Toyota and Lexus products, use the system to aggressively increase mileage. Milder hybrids, like GM’s e-assist, use battery power to supplement the gasoline engine when under heavy load; that improves mileage, but not to the extent of the more-aggressive systems. Still others, like Acura’s 377-horsepower RLX Sport Hybrid, use the electric motors to not only improve mileage, but also to dramatically improve performance.

The newest class of hybrids is known as the plug-in hybrid or extended-range electric vehicle. These cars can be charged from an external source like a home charger or public charging station. They then can be driven a short distance (from about 10 to 38 miles) before switching to their gasoline engine to either propel the car or charge the battery pack. The class was pioneered by the phenomenal Chevy Volt, but many more vehicles have joined it. Ford’s C-Max and Fusion Energi, Honda’s Accord plug-in hybrid and Toyota’s plug-in Prius are but a few. Expect many more in the coming years, including a plug-in hybrid SUV Mitsubishi Outlander and the sporty Cadillac ELR.

In the past, you would have never thought of diesel vehicles as being green. Times have changed, and the diesel fuel sold in the U.S. has improved. The newest diesel vehicles are not only highly efficient, but their tailpipe emissions place them among the cleanest vehicles on the road. There are a wide variety of clean diesels available, with the best including the Volkswagen Passat, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ram 1500 and Audi’s A6, A7 and Q5. Mercedes-Benz, long-known for its quality diesel engines, is employing them as the base engines in the 2014 E-Class sedan and GL350 BlueTEC sport utility. Coming soon will be the Mazda6 sedan equipped with SkyActiv-D, promising exceptional fuel efficiency for its class.

“Putting Members in the Driver’s Seat” is a special package of five stories ,more than 20 photos and videos that credit unions can use to entertain and educate their members during this key car-buying season and draw attention to the lower interest rates and better loan terms that only credit unions can offer. Watch for John M. Vincent’s stories in Anthem throughout the month of January, and look for lots of downloadable content here.

 

Questions? Contact Gary Stein: 503.350.2216, gstein@nwcua.org.

Posted in Marketing & Communications.