• Black Friday shopping may be best known for deals on flat screen TVs, toys and clothing, but shopping for a new car the day after Thanksgiving can be just as fruitful.


    According to car pricing researchers atTruecar.com, Black Friday is the best day of the year to purchase a new car.  Data on day-by-day car pricing for the last several years reveals that auto discounts on Black Friday are, on average, the biggest of the year.


    “The discounts from dealerships, as well as manufacturers’ incentives, generate the highest discounts of the year on Black Friday,” said Jesse Toprak, an analyst for Truecar.com.


    Unlike typical Black Friday sales in which prices are advertised well in advance, car prices are negotiated on the day of sale.  However, Toprak says there has been a clear trend in discounted prices for car buyers over the past several years.


    The average new car discount on Nov. 27 is projected to be 7.5%. The average discount the day before and after is expected to be just over 6%. On a typical day throughout the year, car shoppers usually pay about 4.7% less than the sticker price.


    Truecar.com projected particularly large Black Friday discounts on certain models. For instance, consumers should be able to pay about 28% off sticker price for a 2009 Suzuki SX4 compact car, 26% off for a 2009 Nissan Titan or Ford F-150 pick-up or 20% off a 2009 Hyundai Sonata sedan.


    Car dealers are making deep cuts in price on Black Friday to ensure shoppers find their way to a dealership on the important shopping day.

    “There’s a lot of noise in the market that day, and we have to stand out,” agreed Brian Benstock, general manager of New York City’s Paragon Honda.


    If you’re looking to beef up your fleet or just looking for a new car yourself, keep Black Friday in mind.  You may find yourself on the good side of a real deal.


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  • A Los Angeles, CA physician accused of deliberately injuring two cyclists by slamming on his car’s brakes was convicted of mayhem, assault with a deadly weapon and other criminal charges on November 2.


    Dr. Christopher Thompson, an ER doctor of Beverly Hospital in Montebello, Calif., was also convicted of battery with serious injury and reckless driving causing injury, said the Los Angeles Times. He now faces up to 10 years in prison.


    Prosecutors alleged that on July 4, 2008, on a stretch of Mandeville Canyon Road in Brentwood, Thompson stopped his car after passing two cyclists and shouting at them to ride single file. The cyclists, Ron Peterson and Christian Stoehr, said that they had begun maneuvering to start riding single file when they saw Thompson’s car speed up, pass them dangerously close and then brake abruptly.


    Peterson, a coach for USC’s and UCLA’s cycling team, was thrown face-first into the rear windshield of the doctor’s car. He broke his front teeth and nose and his face suffered multiple lacerations. Stoehr was thrown to the sidewalk and separated his shoulder. A police officer testified that Thompson told him shortly after the accident that the cyclists had cursed at him so he slammed on his brakes “to teach them a lesson.”


    Thompson denied the cyclists’ allegations, testifying that he had stopped his car to take a picture of the two, thinking that he had left ample room for them. Thompson said he and a number of residents in the area were disturbed by what they viewed as unsafe behavior by cyclists regularly riding that particular road.


    While there is tension between motorists and bicyclists in many major cities across the country, in most states bicycles are entitled to the same use of a full lane as an automobile.  Drivers should be aware of these rights and follow proper traffic protocol around cyclists.


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  • With all of the talk lately about texting and driving, it is important to shed some light on other major road safety issues facing American drivers.

    The National Sleep Foundation’s 2009 Sleep in America poll shows that 1 percent, or as many as 1.9 million drivers, have had a car crash or a near miss due to drowsiness in the past year. 54 percent of drivers (105 million) have driven while drowsy at least once in the past year, and 28 percent (54 million) do so at least once per month, according to the study.


    “People underestimate how tired they are and think that they can stay awake by sheer force of will,” said Thomas Balkin, chairman of the National Sleep Foundation. “This is a risky misconception. Would there be 1.9 million fatigue-related crashes or near misses if people were good at assessing their own ability to drive when fatigued?”


    “The problem,” said Balkin, “is that although we are pretty good at recognizing when we feel sleepy, we do not recognize the process of actually falling asleep as it is happening. The process robs us of both self-awareness and awareness of our environment. All it takes is a moment of reduced awareness to cause a crash.”


    Studies have shown that staying awake for more than 20 hours creates the same level of impairment as a blood alcohol content of 0.08, the legal limit for driving in all states.  A fatigued driver is just as impaired as a drunk driver, with the added danger of not being able to do anything to avoid a crash.


    The following warning signs indicate that it’s time to stop driving and find a safe place to pull over and address your condition:

    • Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking and/or heavy eyelids
    • Difficulty keeping reveries or daydreams at bay
    • Trouble keeping your head up
    • Drifting from your lane, swerving, tailgating and/or hitting rumble strips
    • Unable to clearly remember the last few miles driven
    • Missing exits or traffic signs
    • Yawning repeatedly
    • Feeling restless, irritable or aggressive.


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  • The Better Roads Bridge Inventory survey for 2009 harbors some bad news: Over 150,000 bridges in the U.S. have been judged to be “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.” There are less than 598,000 bridges in America. That means 25.7% aren’t in very good shape. It turns out that the state with the most structurally deficient or functionally obsolete (SD/FO) bridges is Texas, with 9,564 such bridges. However, Texas is almost half the size of Alaska and therefore has a lot of bridges, but the percentage of Texan SD/FO bridges is 19%. And that’s significantly lower than the national average.

    The leading state in SD/FO bridges was, well, not a state, but the District of Columbia.  The survey states that 55% of the bridges in the nation’s capital are likely to fail or fall down sooner than later. The actual State with the highest percentage of bad bridges is Rhode Island with 53%. Pennsylvania takes second place with 39%.


    The worst part about all of this data?  All of these numbers may on the low side of estimates.


    You can read the full detailed survey results here.


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  • Another update on the continuing debate over texting and driving: The Rhode Island Department of Transportation and its Office of Highway Safety is letting residents know that texting behind the wheel is now illegal in the state.  Gov. Donald Carcieri signed the anti-texting legislation into law on Monday, Nov. 9.


    Violators caught and convicted of texting while driving will get an $85 fine for the first offense, a $100 fine for the second offense, and a $125 fine for the third offense. The Rhode Island DOT has plans to alert drivers of this law by running ads, using its highway variable message signs, putting information on social media sites, and reaching out to universities to let students know about the change.


    “Driver inattention is a leading cause of motor vehicle crashes, and texting has been one of the most egregious forms of it,” says RIDOT Director Michael P. Lewis. “This law will help put a driver’s eyes back on the road where they should be. While this law helps us save lives, RIDOT is continuing to work toward a primary seat belt law. Doing so would prevent serious injuries and save even more lives while providing Rhode Island an additional $3.7 million in transportation infrastructure and highway safety funds.”


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  • Over the next three years, more than a dozen pure-electric or hybrid cars are scheduled to hit U.S. markets.  The new vehicles, which will be provided by both large automakers like GM and start-ups like Fisker Automotive, will provide plenty of choices for consumers.  They promise amazing fuel efficiency, new technologies and futuristic designs.


    Automakers are making preparations to begin production of electric vehicles on a large scale.  However, one question remains: how practical and sustainable will these new vehicles be for the average consumer?


    Electric vehicles present many challenges for car buyers in the years ahead.  Some of these problems can be observed by looking at today’s hybrids: Arthur Krieger, a retired police officer in Los Angeles, drives a Prius powered by a relatively small nickel metal hydride battery to assist the gasoline engine. The battery needed replacement after nine years on the road. That’s when Krieger got a nasty surprise: A new one would cost more than $4,800, effectively destroying the cost savings of owning a hybrid in the first place.


    Then there is the matter of exactly where to recharge thousands of new electrics.  Some experts believe that public charging stations will be the best solution, either those put up by state and local governments or, private companies. At present there is almost no such infrastructure. Building a nationwide network would cost tens of billions of dollars.


    That means most electric owners will be charging at home. Plug-in hybrids, which primarily run on batteries but also have gasoline-powered engines to supplement range and power, can get by on standard household current. They’re ready to roll in five or six hours.  All-electric cars, however, can take well over a day to charge unless owners invest thousands of dollars in home electrical upgrades.


    Ed Kjaer of Southern California Edison cautioned that “not everyone has access to a garage or other place to plug into,” including apartment dwellers or people in urban areas that depend on street parking.


    “Plug-in cars are not for everybody at this point,” said Kjaer, who expects that infrastructure such as public charging stations will eventually help level the playing field.


    Do you think your fleet could benefit from all-electric plug-in or hybrid vehicles?


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  • Almost every one of the most popular used trucks and SUVs onAutoTrader.com saw double-digit percentage price increases in October.  The most improved vehicle was the Chevrolet Tahoe, which was up 27 percent from last year.  The Dodge Ram 1500 and Ford F-150 also had price increases of over 20 percent since October 2008.


    Similar trends emerged in the new vehicle market, with most truck and SUV models showing single digit increases.  However, the F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado had 20 and 14 percent increases respectively.


    “There continues to be renewed interest in these larger vehicles from consumers who need these vehicles for their work, because they have large families or some other true utility reason,” said Chip Perry, president of AutoTrader.com.


    “In the past two years, record gas prices and a challenged economy caused many of these people to put off purchase of a new or used truck or SUV,” he explained.


    “But for car buyers who really need large vehicles, they can only put off the purchase for so long,” Perry continued. “This rising demand coupled with low inventories could lead to continued price increases on these vehicles over the coming months.”


    In a month where AutoTrader.com continued to witness an increase in views on the site over last year, the company had 13.6 million unique monthly visitors, up 6 percent from 12.9 million in October 2008.


    “Consumers tell us over and over that the Internet is the number one medium from which they get information about vehicles and find dealers they want to do business with.” Perry remarked.


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  • According to Toyota Motor Sales USA,the Cincinnati Police Department is adding the Toyota Highlander Hybrid SUVs to its fleet.

    The 270-hp Highlanders will be converted into K-9 units, supporting bomb-sniffing dogs and counter-terrorism specialists. With the addition of these SUVs, the Cincinnati Police Department will have a total of eight Highlander Hybrids in its vehicle fleet.


    Toyota has been working with Cincinnati’s K-9 team for several years, ever since it helped the force acquire and train a patrol dog. Named “Tundra” after Toyota’s full-size pickup, the canine is considered one of the best K-9 agents of its kind in the country.  In 2004, the Cincinnati Police Department hosted the 2004 United States Police Canine Regional Trials, and Toyota contributed $15,000 in support of the local competition.


    The Cincinnati Police conducted K-9 demonstrations for company employees at the Cincinnati Regional Sales Office on Nov. 2. During the event, K-9 officers conducted simulated scenarios specifically for dogs trained in bomb and drug detection and standard patrol situations. A few converted, police-owned Highlander Hybrids were also on display.


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  • The idea of “peak oil”- that oil production has reached its highest point and will decline due to economic, geological and technical restraints- has existed for some time as a possible consequence of modern oil consumption.  But recently, people in the oil industry are beginning to take peak oil seriously.

    Steven Kopits of energy analysis firm Douglas Westwood agrees with the proponents of peak oil.  His forecast for the near future: get ready to pay $4 for a gallon of gas again.


    Several factors are converging to make $4 gas more likely.  David Bowden, executive director of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas-USA in Denver, says the supply of oil will lessen in the next few years, leading to higher prices.  Some believe that higher prices could also lead to a “Seesaw economic recovery” in which high prices would slow down economic growth until oil demand falls again.


    The most important question in the debate over peak oil is one without a certain answer: when will the world reach the oil peak? Has it already?

    Kopits says that oil most likely reached a “practical peak” in 2004 when world oil output reached a plateau, no longer keeping pace with economic growth. Some investment banks say that the world’s July 2008 production of 86.7 million barrels per day was the peak.  Still others say that this year is the peak, at 89.6 million barrels per day.


    The debate over the actual circumstances of the oil peak makes it very difficult to plan for.  Although there is an abundant supply of natural gas available, a new fueling infrastructure is necessary before it can be effectively used by consumers.  It could take a full decade to make the necessary changes.

    What could you do today to manage fuel expenses so you’re prepared long before prices soar tomorrow?


    • TrendWatch

  • The NATSO (National Association of Truck Stop Owners) Foundation has introduced an online toolkit to help truck stop and travel plaza owners, as well as the general motoring public, prepare for a potential disruption to business or travel plans due to an outbreak of the H1N1 flu.  The web-based informational kit is titled “H1N1 For No One” and was created in accordance with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ guidelines recommending that travelers and the businesses that cater to them create plans for influenza outbreaks.


    NATSO says the kit draws on the top recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency, and is filled with industry-specific information on minimizing exposure risks and maintaining operations during a pandemic.


    The kit also includes tips on developing contingency plans, serving ill travelers and keeping locations clean and sanitary. NATSO has created a customer handout that can be downloaded from the site to keep professional drivers, fleet operators and travelers current on H1N1. Additional sections within the kit cover business insurance, flu vaccination clinics and best practices.


    “Thousands of travelers rely on truckstops and travel plazas daily for food and fuel,” says Lisa Mullings, president of the NATSO Foundation. “We want the public to know that we are taking H1N1 seriously and are making the necessary preparations so we can continue to provide the level of service we are known for even if a pandemic occurs.”


    The kit is available free of charge for all truck stop and travel plaza operators.  For more information, click here.


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