Texas Doubles Oil Production in Last 3 Years

Seven year ago (seven?!) when I started writing this blog, I would have never believed that a chart like this would be possible: For 25 straight months, the state’s oil production rate has increased by more than 25 percent year-over-year, notes economist Mark J. Perry, a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Management. […]

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Texas Doubles Oil Production in Last 3 Years

Seven year ago (seven?!) when I started writing this blog, I would have never believed that a chart like this would be possible:

For 25 straight months, the state’s oil production rate has increased by more than 25 percent year-over-year, notes economist Mark J. Perry, a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Management.

“Output in America’s  No. 1 oil-producing state — Texas — continues its phenomenal, meteoric rise,” Perry wrote on his Carpe Diem blog. “That production surge has to be one of the most significant increases in oil output ever recorded in the U.S. over such a short period of time.”

It’s hard to say if this output can be sustained for any amount of time, or if it’s a last gasp effort to recover the oil left on the table to profit from the current high price per barrel. This oil renaissance has been happening around us for a few years now, and frankly, I never understood how big it was until today, when I saw this graph. I haven’t been writing about fuel for a while, instead concentrating on driver related safety, but this has my attention again in an unexpected way.

What do you think – is this an “oil bubble”? (Related: Is the word “bubble” being used too often to describe just about everything? Are we just living in a “bubble”, and didn’t know it?)

Posted in Fuels, Gasoline, Industry, Oil & Politics, Oil Industry, Oil Refining, Science | Leave a comment

Big changes coming for daily news at ConsumerReports.org

Starting later this week, you’ll notice a few things different about the daily content we produce at ConsumerReports.org:

The news.consumerreports.org subdomain will go away. All of the content we produce, including daily news items, product reviews and Ratings, the Consumer Reports magazine archive, videos, and more–will appear on ConsumerReports.org.

Don’t worry–you’ll still be able to find all the previous news articles we published over the past seven-plus years. And if you’ve bookmarked news.consumerreports.org, that URL will redirect to ConsumerReports.org. If you want to get a feed for the content we create in a particular category, you’ll soon be able touse these links:

Appliances: www.consumerreports.org/cro/feed/appliances.xml
Babies & Kids: www.consumerreports.org/cro/feed/babies-kids.xml
Cars: www.consumerreports.org/cro/feed/cars.xml
Electronics: www.consumerreports.org/cro/feed/electronics-computers.xml
Food: www.consumerreports.org/cro/feed/food.xml
Health: www.consumerreports.org/cro/feed/health.xml
Home & Garden: www.consumerreports.org/cro/feed/home-garden.xml
Personal Finance: www.consumerreports.org/cro/feed/money.xml

For the time being, you won’t be able to add comments to our articles. (Our plan is to add a new commenting tool ASAP.) But in the interim, look for links in our articles to the Consumer Reports forums, an excellent place to join the vibrant, helpful discussion in hundreds of threads. As always, you can also engage with Consumer Reports’ readers via Facebook.

This change means you’ll see more images and videos of the products we’re covering. We think you’ll appreciate that especially when we’re reporting on new cars, gadgets, and appliances from the big trade shows.

Along with the updated visual presentation, this more integrated approach will bring you a step closer to information on the hundreds of products and services we cover.

What won’t differ is our goal of bringing you insightful articles and videos on appliances, cars, electronics, health, personal finance, babies and kids, and much more. And while it might take all of us a bit of time to get used to the changes, in the end we think you’ll appreciate the new look and enhanced functionality.

We welcome your feedback on these changes and want to know what stories you’d like to see on our new platform once it launches. Check out the new look then and send your ideas and comments to cronews@cro.consumer.org.

Posted in Appliances, Babies & Kids, Cars, Electronics, Electronics & computers, Health, Home & Garden, Money, Money & Shopping, Safety & Recalls | Leave a comment

Honda reveals next-generation Fit, teases crossover and hybrid models

2015-Honda-Fit-pr-top.jpgHonda has released first official images of the new 2015 Fit, set to begin production in Mexico next spring, along with information teasing an expanded model range.

The new Honda Fit looks sportier and substantial, but it still appears to have the tall, upright greenhouse that gives the current version its great visibility and interior space. Honda promises nicer interior materials, along with the latest infotainment and connectivity features. The new Fit will use a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine from Honda’s fuel-efficient Earth Dreams powertrain family, along with a continuously variable transmission. A six-speed manual may also be an option.

The company also plans to introduce one or more SUV-type models based on the Fit, such as previewed by the Urban SUV Concept. At least one Fit-spinoff will include a hybrid variant using Honda’s new i-DCD full-hybrid system.

Whenever we test a new small car, it always gets compared to a Honda Fit. That’s because every version of the Fit that we’ve driven has delivered an impressive blend of space, efficiency, sportiness, and value. It sets a high standard. We hope the next-generation Fit lives up to the reputation, but based on the automaker’s hit-or-miss launch history (ahem, Civic), there is no guaranty.

Posted in Cars, Fit, Honda, Hybrids/EVs, Small cars | Leave a comment

Just in: 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander faces tough SUV competition

Sometimes it’s easy to think that the entire Mitsubishi lineup has been covered by a cloaking device. The invisible product range barely makes a ripple when it comes to sales numbers and none come close to topping our Ratings. Can the Mitsubishi Outlander standout in its competitive class? We’re about to find out.

Mitsubishi has struggled in recent years with mediocre product and weak sales. Our test results tell the tale:

  • The Lancer compact sedan delivers only 25 mpg overall and is a decidedly lackluster performer.
  • The Lancer Evo, wicked quick and agile, but almost too noisy and uncomfortable to be livable
  • The Outlander Sport isn’t that sporty at all, has only adequate acceleration and a choppy ride.
  • The small i-MiEV electric car is slow, clumsy, and only goes about 56 miles on a charge. Plus, it costs about $30,000 before tax credits.

Translation: This stealthy company is so close to disappearing, you could blink your eye and it could be gone.

Which leads us to the Outlander.

The pressure is on for this redesigned SUV to deliver. On paper, it has a few notable sales points, such as a class-exclusive standard third-row seat and promised improved fuel economy. Perhaps the big news for the new Outlander is the availability of a lane-departure warning system, adaptive cruise control, and forward-collision warning. These features are often available on high-end trim levels, typically push the price north of $30,000. But the question remains, is the Outlander ready to compete with the best of the small SUVs, such as the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, Subaru Forester, and Toyota RAV4?

To keep within the popular price range, we bought a mid-level AWD SE model and added the Towing and Cargo Packages. Grand total: $27,180. Standard equipment includes a 166-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, CVT, rear-view camera, and heated front seats.

The last Outlander we tested had agile handling, a decent ride and generous rear-seat and cargo room. The four-cylinder engine returned 22 mpg—about on-par for the class.

But the aforementioned small SUV group is a competitive bunch that continues to evolve; it will take a heady performance to knock the best off their perch.

So will this Outlander breathe some new life into Mitsubishi’s seemingly dormant product line? Testing is underway, and we will soon see if the improvements for 2014 help raise the bar.

Posted in Cars, Mitsubishi, Outlander, SUVs | Leave a comment

Smiley cars: Mazda and Mercedes-Benz grin and bear it

2011-MAZDA3-pr-smile.jpgA certain percentage of automobile enthusiasts and journalists have heralded the upcoming release of the redesigned Mazda3, for a number of good, sensible reasons like increased room and fuel economy. But some confess a more subjective preference for the new car, one that falls into the “eye-of-the-beholder” category.

Quite simply, the old (and goofy) grin is gone. Introduced a few years ago to much fanfare on the auto show circuit, a number of redesigned or updated Mazda models then sprouted a trademark smiley face grille as part of what has now apparently become a lost and not necessarily missed design language. (Read: “Redesigned 2014 Mazda 3 promises more of a good thing.”)

But smiles come and go. Now that Mazda has gotten all serious, Mercedes-Benz has picked up the happy torch with the steering wheel and instrument cluster design of the otherwise dead serious AMG S63. But where the Mazda nose persona was more cheerful and even clownlike (see inset photo), the smiling wheel of the S63 looks a bit sinister, like a robotic monster or even a Transformer.

Maybe that’s what buyers of the uber-performance Mercedes-Benz are looking for. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

Posted in Cars, Luxury, Mazda, Mazda3, Mercedes-Benz, Small cars | Leave a comment

When to report a car accident to an insurance company

They are called “accidents” because they are unexpected and unintentional, and as the saying goes, accidents happen. In fact, research shows that drivers can expect to be in a claim-worthy accident at least once a decade. Before your next fender bender, though, be sure you understand when you should inform your insurance company and when you should resist the temptation to put in for a claim and pay out of pocket.

When a crash occurs, there are numerous things to think through and do. After a car accident, if possible, move your vehicle safely off or to the side of the road; turn on flashers; check for injuries; summon medical help as needed; and call the police.

From the insurance perspective, obtain the name, address, phone number, driver’s license number, plate number, and insurance information of any other drivers involved in the accident, along with the names of anyone with injuries and any witnesses. But don’t argue over who is at fault or admit blame. (Learn about car insurance.)

If possible, take photos of the scene (a cell-phone camera can come in handy) and draw a diagram showing the cars’ positions. (We have found some smart-phone apps that can help after a car crash.)

Should you report the fender bender?
If the accident involves another vehicle, as about 7 in 10 accidents do, then contact your insurance company. In speaking with experienced insurance agents, we were told the promise of seeking a private arrangement between drivers seldom works out. It may seem reasonable at the time, but the car damage may be more severe than it appears and soft-tissue injuries often don’t manifest until a day or two later. Of course, false claims are also a concern. If you don’t report the accident in a timely and detailed manner, the insurance company will be limited in providing the protections for which you have long been paying.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) provides a wallet-cringing reality check on repair costs with its assessment of low-speed crash damage. In a staged 10-mph crash that had a 2010 Toyota Corolla rear-end a 2010 Toyota RAV4, the IIHS found the visible damage to be very slight. Yet, the Corolla had more than $3,800 in repairs and the RAV4 suffered $6,000 of harm. Even the cheapest damage in 14 such trials by the IIHS involving seven vehicle pairings produced almost $3,000 in total losses—six times the typical $500 collision deductible.

When it is less clear
A one-car accident involving just your vehicle and/or property creates a hazier situation. In some cases, depending on state law and your policy, minor accidents may be “forgiven” and not impact your insurance premium. This is especially true for long-time customers with a blemish-free driving record. However, a significant payout will likely have the bean counters considering you a profit risk and may adjust your premiums accordingly.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible for consumers to know in advance how much their premiums will increase, and for how long, to weigh that against a claim payout. Of course, if a solo crash is well beyond a driveway mishap, see the steps above for chronicling the accident and reporting to ensure support for vehicle repair and medical care.

When you shouldn’t report
The only time when you should choose not to report an accident to your insurer is when it is a low-speed, single-car mishap, such as backing into a fence or garage. If the damage is close to your collision deductible amount and clearly there isn’t an injury concern, you may skip the reporting.

Posted in Car insurance, Car maintenance, Cars, Insurance, Money & Shopping, Safety | Leave a comment

Pay attention: States are increasing their distracted driving efforts

Distracted driving is an increasing problem as more people have smart phones and want to be connected at all times—even while driving. However, for the past three years states have been working to pass and enforce distraction laws while increasing education and awareness about the dangers. But there is still more work to be done.

The Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) has released its second look at how states are dealing with the issue of distracted driving and found that 39 states, plus Washington, D.C., say the issue is a priority. That marks an increase of 45 percent from 28 states in 2010. Currently, 47 states have a law against texting while driving, a similar 45-percent increase in three years.

Learn more about staying safe behind the wheel in our guide to distracted driving and teen car safety.

States are actively enforcing these laws, but the police are challenged by variations in how the laws are applied. For instance, some states have age-related restrictions and in some, distraction is a secondary, not a primary, law, which means an officer must find another offense first to pull over a driver for texting. (Read: “Tech aids to prevent distraction.”)

Education has been increasing with 47 states informing the public through campaigns in 2013 and increase from 37 states in 2010. Teen education has been a special focus area because they have a higher crash rate than other age segments and an affinity for being connected 24/7. Twenty-seven states, plus Washington, D.C., have specific outreach programs for teens and their parents—an increase of 22 percent. Not only are these programs discussing the use of cell phones while driving, they are also addressing other distractions such as loud music and teen passengers. (Read: “Young drivers at risk.”)

Collecting accurate data to determine the extent of the distracted driving problem remains difficult, but there has been progress. Now 47 states (up from 43 three years ago) are collecting some distracted driving data in police crash reports. Plus, 18 states are working on upgrades to data collection for the coming year.

While all these efforts are encouraging, there is still a great challenge in solving the nation’s distracted driving problem. States are facing shortfalls in funding enforcement and education programs, and the public continues to use their phones behind the wheel even though they know it can be distracting.

For more on distracted driving, including the latest research, information on complicated car controls, and how to reduce your risk, see our special section.

Posted in Cars, Safety | Leave a comment

Pricey Garmin and Magellan GPS navigators add features that may not be worth the cost

With more drivers turning to their smart phones for turn-by-turn directions, leading portable navigation device makers Garmin and Magellan are taking different routes in an effort to remain competitive. But our latest tests show that new top-of-the-line models from both brands offer no significant improvement to basic navigation functions nor are any easier to use than previously tested models. And, they don’t come cheap.

Garmin sticks to the basics with the $350 Nuvi 3597LMTHD. This premium navigator builds on established Garmin strengths with a simple interface, quick response time, and crisp, high-resolution five-inch glass screen, all wrapped in a thin, slick package reminiscent of a smart phone.

To learn more about navigation, visit our GPS buying guide for advice and Ratings.

CRO_cars_gps_garwin_7-13.jpgThe biggest news is a new magnetic mount that makes installation and removal of the Garmin Nuvi 3597LMTHD a snap. Once the suction cup base is attached to the windshield, all you do is bring the unit close, and the magnet pulls it snugly into place. It’s the easiest mounting system to use that we’ve experienced. Being virtually impossible to install it incorrectly, this clever mount is particularly helpful after dark.

But Garmin’s new premium model lost some other useful features, including a pedestrian mode. Unless the slick style and handy mount are must haves for you, it’s hard to justify its premium price.

Magellan has taken a different approach, loading their $250 SmartGPS with travel information and connectivity that goes way past simple guidance from point A to B. With access to Foursquare, Google search, and Yelp for anything else you might want to know on the road, the Magellan SmartGPS is meant to go head-to-head with smart-phone capability—without the phone part. Almost. It is WiFi capable, but on the road you’ll normally be leveraging your phone’s data plan to access those services through a Bluetooth connection, so be mindful of the limits of your data plan.

And all that information makes for a busy screen, with constantly changing pop ups offering restaurant suggestions, gas prices, and even discount coupons. Those graphics can be distracting and are so small that they’re hard to read at a glance. They also take up a big chunk of the five-inch screen’s real estate. Fortunately, a swipe of a finger can make them go away.

Another gripe we had with the Magellan is that it is a rather bulky device—it’s 6.3-inches wide and 3.6-inches tall. Yet the image size is much smaller, at 4.3-inches wide by 2.6-inches tall. That leaves a border of about a half inch above and below the viewable screen area, and about an inch to either side. In other words, the screen occupies only half the front surface area.

The large dimensions may be necessary to accommodate all the hardware needed to provide so much information, but the result is a big device that blocks more of the road without providing a larger map. And it simply looks outdated and clunky, despite its high-tech features.

Buyers seeking guidance on-foot once they’ve parked the car may be disappointed with the Magellan for more reasons than its size. Unlike the Garmin, at least the SmartGPS has a pedestrian mode. But tested battery life of about 45 minutes doesn’t allow much time for navigating on foot. Best walk quickly.

On the positive side, both units have traffic information and other features you’d expect in a top-of-the-line model, including lane guidance and reality view for lifelike renditions of major interchanges. Each also works with a compatible app that lets you send destinations via Bluetooth from another device, so you don’t have to enter them in the car.

Bottom line: Garmin’s new mount is something we’d like to see available on more devices, and the connectivity of the Magellan SmartGPS is handy, so long as you’ve got a passenger to operate it. But for basic navigation at a reasonable price, better choices can be found in our updated GPS Ratings, with all the latest new models from our tests.

Posted in Cars, Garmin, GPS, Magellan | Leave a comment

Ford to improve fuel economy of existing hybrids

Ford is launching a “customer satisfaction campaign” to address shortfalls in fuel economy that CR reported since we tested the company’s current hybrids.

Ford will make software updates to new cars and send out letters to existing owners in late July, asking them to bring their cars in to dealerships for the updates in August. The company says the changes are designed “to improve overall on-road fuel economy,” and bring it closer in line with EPA estimates on the cars’ window stickers. The updates will increase the vehicles’ maximum speed in electric mode to 85 mph from 60 mph, allow electric-only driving sooner after cold starts, reduce the speed of the electric fan, and change the programming of the vehicles’ air conditioning compressor and active grille shutters. No specific claim has been issued to the improvement customers should expect. (Read: “The mpg gap: Some window stickers promise too much.”)

To learn more about saving gas, visit our guide to fuel economy.

The changes affect the Ford Fusion Hybrid and C-Max Hybrid models, although they do not affect plug-in versions of those cars “which have different hardware and different operating characteristics,” says Ford spokesman Bill Collins.

In our tests, both got excellent mileage, including a best-in-class 39 mpg for the Ford Fusion Hybrid. But they fell far short of their 47 mpg combined city and highway EPA ratings. Consumers rely on these ratings, published on vehicle window stickers, to help guide their purchase decisions. And the shortfall in mpg has generated many consumer complaints. It is conceivable that the changes could nudge the performance to, or past, the consumer-pleasing 40-mpg mark.

Collins says the window sticker labels will not be affected by the changes.

We applaud Ford’s efforts to improve the cars’ real-world fuel economy and hope to have the customer service action performed on our cars to see how much benefit it produces. But we still believe EPA fuel economy testing needs to be improved to give consumers more accurate estimates they can rely on before spending thousands of dollars on a new fuel-efficient car.

Posted in C-MAX, Cars, Ford, Fusion, Fusion Hybrid, Hybrids/EVs | Leave a comment