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LOOK AT SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA AND THE CAR

Cars May Run Clean, but What of Factory?

March 25, 1999|JOHN O'DELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dirty Little Secrets: Seems like being "green" is more a matter of where you emit than whether you emit. Mitsubishi and Honda usually get top marks for producing fuel-efficient, low-polluting cars. But the Council on Economic Priorities, a nonprofit research group in New York that rates companies on social responsibility, says the two car makers have the dirtiest auto factories in the country. Mitsubishi's U.S. plant in Normal, Ill., the council says, emits more than four times the toxic pollutants of the nation's cleanest car factory--one owned by DaimlerChrysler in Michigan. Paradoxically, the group's new consumer report says, companies like Ford and DaimlerChrysler, whose fleets are fat with gas-guzzling, emissions-spewing trucks and sport-utility vehicles, have the cleanest factories. The consumer report can be viewed on the council's World Wide Web site at http://www.cepnyc.org.

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Changing Times: Wasn't long ago that attendance at an auto race--road, track or drag strip--guaranteed a goodly dose of tobacco advertising. They don't call 'em the NASCAR Winston Cup races and the Marlboro 500 just for fun. But with the government cracking down on nicotine, cigarette companies are finding sports sponsorship opportunities limited, and race car owners are turning elsewhere for financial backers. So out there running with the red-and-white Marlboro cars in the CART series for open-wheel Indy-type cars this year is the bright-green NicoDerm-Nicorette car sponsored by SmithKline Beecham Consumer Healthcare, maker of the stop-smoking products. The company also is sponsoring a car in the International Hot Rod Assn. drag race series this year. The inaugural appearance of the NicoDerm-Nicorette super-eliminator class dragster will be at the Amalie Oil Summer Nationals in Cordova, Ill., on June 18. Perhaps next we'll see the Antabuse car running in the Miller Lite 200.

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Comeback Kid: Ford Motor is on a roll these days, poised to overtake General Motors as the world's biggest car company. One sign of FoMoCo's prowess: A Ford sedan has found its way onto the "best rides" list of a popular automotive magazine for the youth crowd. Yup. The Ford Contour SVT (for Special Vehicles Team) is one of Sport Compact Magazine's "Eight Great Rides" this year.

The magazine rolled out its list in the March issue, and Ford is the only U.S. brand on it. Audi is the only European entry. The rest come from Japanese car makers. Larry Saavedra, Sport Compact's editor, said more than 40 compact cars were evaluated. The judging criteria? Well, practicality is a factor, but the list is aimed at the young first-time buyer, he said. "Our readers are more concerned with the raw performance . . . than how much mileage the car gets."

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Here's the List: "Eight Great Rides," and what the judges said about them:

Acura Integra GS-R. "Takes to the track like a race car . . . handles well, sounds great and goes like stink."

Audi A4 1.8t Quattro. "Engine pulls with gusto and the gearbox is sweet . . . classy, yet affordable sport sedan."

Ford Contour SVT. "Reinforces my belief that the Big 3 can go head-to-head with Japanese and European road rockets."

Honda Civic Si. "A Civic on steroids, with all the go-fast pieces an enthusiast would want."

Infiniti G20t. "Jump[s] through hoops of fire--combining dynamic performance with a long list of standard features."

Mazda Miata Sport. "Like a good mystery novel; the more twists and turns it takes, the harder it is to put away."

Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX. "The brute force approach to going fast; nothing is subtle about it."

Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS. "The mountain bike of sports cars . . . its all-wheel drive can make you feel like a rally champion."

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John O'Dell can be reached via e-mail at john.odell@latimes.com.

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