NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
In the past week, the news out of Detroit has gone from bad to worse. A few days ago, DaimlerChrysler announced that it will lose more than a billion dollars this year, and will slash production by 16 percent. Last week, Ford unveiled plans to cut 10,000 white-collar jobs and offer buyouts to its 75,000 hourly employees, something GM has already done. Yesterday, Toyota announced it will try to increase global sales by 10 percent in the next two years. Also, Nissan announced plans to begin selling light commercial vehicles like trucks and vans in North America. GM still sells more cars in America and worldwide than anyone else, but for how much longer?
And is it the end of an era or the beginning of a new one for the Big Three? Some industry watchers say the picture is not as bleak as it looks, that American car manufacturers are now out of denial and finally beginning to make the tough choices needed to take on the Toyotas and Hondas of the world.
Today, we'll look at the competitiveness and the future of American cars. We'll talk with the director of the Consumer Reports National Auto Test Center, the Editor of Car and Driver magazine, and with the Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times automotive critic. And, of course, we'll take your questions. Do you drive an American car? What do you like about it? If not, what would it take to get you to buy one? Join the conversation. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is email@example.com.
Later in the program, the terror trials and torture on Capitol Hill.
But first, Camry versus Explorer. David Champion is the director of Consumer Reports' National Auto Test Center. He's with us from the studio at the Consumer Reports in East Haddam, Connecticut.
Nice to have you on the program today.
Mr. DAVID CHAMPION (Director, National Auto Test Center, Consumer Reports): It's my pleasure.
CONAN: Now, how many American cars were there in the 2006 Consumer Reports top picks list?
Mr. CHAMPION: None at all.
CONAN: And is that unusual?
Mr. CHAMPION: Well, we've usually had maybe one or two out of the 10 top picks that come from a domestic manufacturer. But this year, they all came from the Japanese manufacturers.
CONAN: And what were the top models?
Mr. CHAMPION: There were cars such as the Acura TL, Honda Accord, Honda Civic, Toyota Highlander Hybrid - just basically, mainly from Toyota and Honda products.
CONAN: And if you had to characterize the difference between those and American models, what would they be?
Mr. CHAMPION: They're extremely good cars sold at a reasonable price with good safety and excellent reliability.
CONAN: Hmm. So you can put a less compared to than all of the American models?
Mr. CHAMPION: Yes. They generally do better in things like breaking acceleration, especially fuel economy. Their reliability has always been excellent. Fit and finish of the interiors, and comfort of the interiors is usually superior, also.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. And those are - are these your considerations? Or are they what American consumers tell you they want?
Mr. CHAMPION: In terms of how they score in our testing, we have a 327-acre test track and put cars through a whole battery of tests over a number of months. And maybe put sort of 5 to 6,000 miles on these cars during the testing and go from top to bottom on the cars. But the reliability comes from the over 6 million subscribers to Consumer Reports, and they basically tell us how reliable their cars have been in everyday life.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Well, we have some listeners who have some experience, too. If they'd like to join the conversation, our number is 800-989-8255 - 800-989-TALK. E-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
And let's start with Anthony. Anthony's calling us from Kansas City.
ANTHONY (Caller): Hey, guys. How's it going?
ANTHONY: My wife and I have a Honda Accord and a Chevy Tahoe. We traded in the Tahoe - we traded in a Volvo for the Tahoe. Our family is starting to grow, so we just got an SUV. I absolutely hate the Tahoe. The Honda never gives us any problems whatsoever. My wife is a doctor of pharmacy and I'm an insurance agent. I use the Honda to drive around all the time doing my business. And she uses the Tahoe to carry the kids around and do other things.
The Tahoe is always in the shop. The electronics are bad. The fixtures inside the truck are - is cheap compared to the Honda. And overall, I really wish I would have kept the Volvo instead of trading it in for the American SUV.
CONAN: Yeah. David Champion, he says - this sounds like he may have taken a few turns around your track.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ANTHONY: Yeah. I'm totally disappointed with the American auto industry. Only reason I bought the truck is because I thought the trucks, American trucks, were superior. However, I'm changing my mind completely. My father - I come from generations of GM workers, and I just want to show some loyalty. I hate - that was the worse financial move I could have ever made.
CONAN: Hmm. Anthony, thanks very much for the call. And we wish you better luck with the car.
CONAN: All right. Bye-bye.
David Champion, that seems to parallel your findings right down the line.
Mr. CHAMPION: Yes, it is. And I think a lot of people would really like to buy an American car, if they gave you comparable performance and were reliable. And really, if you look at the Japanese manufacturers when they first came into the U.S. market, their cars were not that good, but you just couldn't kill them. They would just keep running and running and running.
And all it takes is somebody to buy - like the gentleman - just to buy a domestic product and then find that it breaks down all the time. You know, our lives are so busy these days that to have a car broken down and have to take it back to the dealer, and then you ring up at 4:00 and the dealer says, oh, no. I haven't touched it yet. You know, it'll be tomorrow before it's fixed. Or I've got to order a part or something like that. We don't have time in the day to be bothered with cars that break down.
CONAN: Do you think American car manufacturers are listening to their consumers? These lessons are not exactly new.
Mr. CHAMPION: I think over the past five years, we've seen a good increase in the reliability of domestic products. It's going to take a long time to get them up to the comparability to a Japanese vehicle. But they are really looking at it. It's just going to take them time, and unfortunately, that time is costing them money and sales.
CONAN: Well, joining us now is Dan Neil, the Pulitzer Prize-winning automobile critic for the Los Angeles Times. He's with us today from Key Largo in Florida where he's filming a documentary.
And Dan Neil, nice to have you back on the program.
Mr. DAN NEIL (Automobile Critic, Los Angeles Times): Thanks Neal. Nice to be here.
CONAN: And are the Big Three on their last legs? Or are they, as David Champion suggests, beginning to learn some lessons?
Mr. NEIL: Well, I can't believe I'm in this position, but I'm actually kind of bullish about the Big Three in the long run. The thing that your caller was talking about a minute ago, that's the most stubborn problem that they face. They can compete on design. They can compete on engineering if they are given the resources - or I should say if they direct the resources toward it. But this long-term, very emotional feeling that many consumers have of being betrayed, that has probably the longest tail of any of these acute causes that the manufacturers make.
But having said that, there are a lot of smart people in Detroit and they have gotten the message. And they are making changes as, I think, as fast as - you know, they're redecorating the foxhole as fast as they can.
CONAN: You used a strong word there: betrayal.
Mr. NEIL: Yeah. It's complete betrayal. And it's a thing that - I mean, consumers have such long memories about these things. And I talk to people all the time - and I'm sure Mr. Champion does and I know Csaba does. People who bought Hondas and Toyotas in the ‘70s, and I mean they fell in love with them. And, you know, there is a real generational timeline to this kind of loyalty to automobiles. And so, in the ‘70s and ‘80s and well into the ‘90s, when the manufacturers - the domestic manufacturers - traded away all that goodwill. That was a huge loss for them.
CONAN: Here's an email we have from Jack in West Palm Beach.
I currently drive a 2001 Ford F150 pickup truck. I would consider a Nissan or a Toyota full-size pickup only if it were made in a UAW union shop.
And Dan Neil, again, that gets back to the loyalty issue that a lot of Americans have about their cars.
Mr. NEIL: Well, you know, if you look at the little piece that breaks off from the interior of your Ford F150 or Chevy Tahoe or whatever it is, right?
CONAN: Mm hmm.
Mr. NEIL: There's a long history to that piece. One of the things - if you take a macroeconomic look at this - the domestic manufacturers have profited greatly on these SUVs and trucks. They've extracted a lot of profits out of their manufacturing in the past few decades. They haven't really invested as much in product development design. They don't - they haven't put the quality back in the vehicles.
One way that they have tried to seek out extra profitability is to move the manufacturing out of the Midwest, out of the north, and into the south into non-union shops, where the wages are generally lower and where the benefits aren't quite as good, where they sort of are decoupled from these, you know, these deals they made with the UAW. Personally, as a union guy, you know, I find that a little bit troubling. But on the other hand, I think the UAW was shortsighted as well.
CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Fred. Fred with us from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
FRED (Caller): Hi.
FRED: Guys, thanks so much for taking up this topic. It's very important. I'm a loyal U.S. car buyer. In fact, we own three U.S. vehicles, and I will stay with them come hell or high water if I had to. I really do - right now, though, it makes me mad that, you know, the little Toyota trucks that came along - the little four-cylinder engines that were so dependable, as you talked about earlier - you cannot pry those things out of the hands of people.
What I can't understand is now Japan is making bigger and bigger engines on bigger and bigger trucks. Why didn't the United States, when the oil prices began to shoot up, why didn't they make a small, four-cylinder engine - very dependable little truck? They'd be all over the roads here.
CONAN: Dan Neil, any ideas on that?
Mr. NEIL: Oh yeah, absolutely. What has happened to the domestic automobile industry almost had to happen. They were making such enormous profits from these big SUVs and trucks. People say: well, why didn't they make smaller vehicles? Well, they ran that thread as long as they could. You know, they weren't going to shift production to less popular, less fuel efficient cars or more fuel efficient cars until the oil prices spiked and the SUVs and trucks started to decline in sales. You know, they just couldn't walk away from that. What they've done wrong is that they weren't fully prepared for the kind of seismic effects of the recent spikes in gas prices.
Now I think they understand that they have to have more products in the pipeline to anticipate these changes. Oil's only going to get more expensive, and I think finally the big three are shifting their production in a way that was inevitable.
CONAN: Fred, you have a good mechanic?
Mr. NEIL: We do. They have great mechanics and they always have taken very good care of us. We have - on all three vehicles. Some of the ways they're made are a little bit cheaper than I'd like to see, but I can handle it. Of course, we are not very abusive on vehicles either, but I just love American cars and I always will.
CONAN: Good luck, Fred.
FRED: Thank you, guys.
CONAN: We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll have more of your calls: 800-989-8255 if you'd like to join us. 800-989-TALK. E-mail is
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're talking about American cars and the troubles facing the U.S. auto industry. Companies like Toyota and Honda and Nissan hope to sell even more cars here while Detroit plans cutbacks. Our guests are David Champion, he's the director of Consumer Reports National Auto Test Center. Still with us also is Dan Neil, the Los Angeles Times automobile critic. Of course, you're welcome to join us: 800-989-8255. 800-989-TALK. E-mail us, email@example.com.
And Dan, we know we have to let you go, but I wonder - you were saying you're a little bit bullish about the future of the American car industry, of the big three. Is any one of the companies better positioned at this point?
Mr. NEIL: Well, I think - well, I had a conversation with the vice chairman of General Motors, Robert Lutz last week and also Larry Burns, who is the head of their advanced technology, Powertrain - the future guys. And now, as extraordinary as it seems to me at the time, General Motors is very, very serious about leapfrogging the competition on, of all things, hybrid cars and plug-in electric cars. General Motors famously was the company that killed the electric car…
CONAN: Movie out about that, yeah.
Mr. NEIL: …and now I think they're absolutely serious about going forward with an advanced-propulsion technology that will leapfrog the competition in a way. Right now, they're still talking about hydrogen fuel cells and compressed hydrogen on board, which I think is a non-starter for all sorts of reasons. But they are very serious about battery sources of power. And if they do that - if General Motors were to market a plug-in electric hybrid and beat Toyota specifically to market, that would erase so much of the kind of negative karma that they've built up over the past few years.
CONAN: Hmm. Dan Neil, thanks very much. I understand you're scuba diving tomorrow. Have a good time.
Mr. NEIL: Thanks very much, Neal. Talk to you later.
CONAN: Dan Neil's a Pulitzer Prize winning automobile critic for the Los Angeles Times. He was with us today from Key Largo in Florida. David Champion, I wonder what you make of those - with those thoughts.
Mr. CHAMPION: I think generally they - General Motors probably has the better wherewithal than Ford and Chrysler. However, their car division product line is pretty dated at the moment. Only the Saturn Aura in the big-selling areas such as family sedans is a new product at the moment. So I think it's going to take some years.
The hybrid story - yes, I know they're working on it. Whether they're going to leapfrog Toyota, I'm not sure.
CONAN: Here's an e-mail we got from Matt in Independence, Missouri.
I bought a Ford F150 in 2002 out of union loyalty and from being from a Ford family. When the paint went bad in only a couple of years, I had to fight the Ford Motor Company tooth and nail - including using our local TV Call for Action - to get most of the cost covered by Ford. Out of $3,500, they wouldn't cover the final $350 of the cost. It will be a long time before I buy another Ford. The inflection was his, not mine. We now have a 2006 Honda Pilot, a 2003 Subaru Legacy and a 2002 Subaru Forester. They're much better cars.
And would you agree with that - his calculation there? And it's also - it's not just the cars, as he's suggesting. It's how they treat their customers.
Mr. CHAMPION: Yes. It's very unfortunate that, you know, if you do have a problem with a domestic product, the customer service - and it may be that, you know, they're inundated with calls, but we've had somebody here that had a problem with a car and the representative actually said well, if you want treatment like that you should have bought a Honda. And they had a domestic car at the time. So, it's very difficult for the domestic manufacturers to actually move forward when you have all this legacy behind. And, you know, we've heard things, well, is it a damaged brand? Is it going to make it?
And you really have to point to a company like Hyundai that, in the early ‘90s, was really almost like a joke of the industry because, you know, their cars were so unreliable. They were worth nothing. And through actually changing the product and really working extremely hard on reliability and really getting the reliability right, they're now up there and there's many people considering buying a Hyundai instead of a Honda or Toyota.
CONAN: We're going to bring another perspective into the conversation. Csaba Csere is editor-in-chief of Car and Driver Magazine. He's with us today from member station WUOM in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Good to have you back on the program.
Mr. CSABA CSERE (Editor-in-Chief, Car and Driver Magazine): Happy to be here, Neal.
CONAN: And your 2007 best bets are out. Any American cars in your lineup?
Mr. CSERE: Well, not necessarily any new ones. We're going to be picking - we're actually out driving the selections for our 10 best cars, which will appear in our January issue. And last year, we only had three American cars out of 10, and this year I don't think we're going to have any more. It's a very tough time for the U.S. industry for all the reasons that were mentioned before.
The fact is that for GM in particular, their market share has been sliding nonstop for the last 25 years. And for a while there was a reprieve in profits from trucks, but that's gone away in part because a lot of the competition got into the truck business and, of course, we have the recent high gas prices.
And all the American manufacturers suffer these problems to a greater or lesser extent. And they also have this enormous legacy cost issue where even when they try and downsize, they really can't downsize all of their costs because they have so many retired workers for whom they're providing pensions and medical care, and it's a huge overhead. And the result is that right now, when the American manufacturers I think do get the message and are trying to turn around their product lines, they don't have a huge amount of cash with which to do it. So it's very difficult for them.
CONAN: Your magazine was among the first to criticize American cars - sort of the ethos almost of the American car. Do you now see any good news coming out?
Mr. CSERE: Well, we do see some good news. But when you - I'm glad you mentioned that, because, you know, there's a lot of focus on quality. And, of course, for most people quality's the most important thing because they're not necessarily car nuts. But even if you're interested in cars, American cars have been wanting in refinement and sophistication and the highest technology for a long, long time, and so they haven't been the aspirational brands. And these inspirational brands are set by the car nuts, but then they're picked up by the rest of the public. And, you know, we've got into the position where 50 years ago, if you wanted a good car you bought an American car. And if you wanted a cheap car, you bought a foreign car. And today, this is turned around completely, and that's the difficult part of it.
They are starting to get better. David mentioned the Saturn Aura. That has a fully sophisticated Powertrain. It's a modern chassis. It works very well, and that car has a lot of potential. But you have to look around the industry and pick and choose these because there simply aren't very many of them.
CONAN: You know, it occurs to me that - slightly off topic - you two guys must have two of the coolest jobs in America.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. CHAMPION: We sometimes chat about that at auto shows.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. CHAMPION: Yes.
CONAN: It must be great fun to take out these new cars and test them.
Mr. CSERE: It's terrific fun.
Mr. CHAMPION: It does have a…
CONAN: David Champion, why don't you go first?
Mr. CHAMPION: It is. It's a great blast. We've just finished a group of expensive cars, one of them being the Corvette Z06. And there is a car from General Motors I think is probably up there with the best sports cars in the world. But the interior fit and finish and the interior trim is decidedly lacking. But yes, it's a really cool thing to do. The only thing is we drive a different car every day, and don't leave your kit bag in the back of the car because somebody's taking it home.
CONAN: Yeah. Csaba Csere, what do you like about that?
Mr. CSERE: Well, it's the same thing, and perhaps even more so for us because we're focused on enthusiast cars. So I probably spend a higher percentage of my time in powerful sports cars than David does. And if you love cars, it's fantastic to not only be able to drive them but to have access at the car companies and talk to the engineers and ask them exactly why did you do this this way? And what was your choice in this suspension? And why didn't you do this? And they actually feel compelled to answer us, so it's wonderful.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: That's also cool. Here's an e-mail we have from Kathy in Santa Cruz.
I love my 1994 Ford Escort LX. It's great running still. I see many Escort circa mid-‘90s still on the roads. Obviously, this is a good, reliable Ford. Now Ford doesn't make them anymore. Why did they get rid of a good thing? The reason the classic Ford Model T lasted so long is because Ford might manufacture the Model T long enough to perfect it. Car manufacturers seem to change their product so often as to never get good at building them anymore. I'm going to hang on to my Escort till it dies, and then I'm getting a Honda Civic.
David Champion, any - does she have a point?
Mr. CHAMPION: Yes, actually the Ford Escort of the mid-‘90s was extremely reliable. It was actually based on a Mazda 323 at that time. They stopped that model to build the Focus, which turned out to be extremely unreliable in its first years, and it's taken them a number of years to get it right. And I think that is another problem that we see with domestic cars.
All cars in their first year do have more problems than in the rest of their model cycle. But the domestics seem to rush cars to market with more problems that we see than maybe the Japanese manufacturers do.
CONAN: Let's get Tara on the line. Tara's calling us from DeSales, Illinois.
TARA (Caller): Hi there. I own a Chrysler PT Cruiser. Actually, I just got a new one because I had one since the very beginning, since they started it. And I find it to be the most reliable car. I put the least amount of money into it that I have ever put into a vehicle. It lasted me until now, and I decided to get a new one cause I had 150,000 miles on it.
And one thing that really disappointed me was that the fuel efficiency of the vehicle didn't improve at all over the last six years since I've had the vehicle originally. And I really wish that they would've done something in that regard. If I was still driving as much as I used to, I probably would've gone with the new Nissan Versa to get the same kind of size that I was looking for.
I wish that they would do more about fuel efficiency.
CONAN: Well, Csaba Csere, you know, a lot of people thought Chrysler had sort of ducked the same bullet that was hitting Ford and GM. We learned this week it wasn't, despite successes like the PT Cruiser.
Mr. CSERE: Well, yes. Part of the problem here, of course, is the truck reliance. About 75 percent of the vehicles that Chrysler sells are classified as trucks - pick-ups, SUVs, vans, and in the case of the PT Cruiser, even that one gets an oddball truck classification.
But the fact is the high fuel prices have hit these vehicles very hard. And an earlier e-mailer mentioned that as well. The thing people have to realize is that it takes roughly three years to design a new vehicle. So if we're sitting here today - the 2007s are just coming out now - so we have to decide now what the 2010 cars are going to look like, because that's how long it takes. And I defy anyone to tell me what the price of fuel's going to be in 2010. I don't think anyone knows that.
In fact, two months ago, if someone said the price of gasoline was going to fall 25 percent by the end of the summer, he would've been ridden out of town on a rail. It's totally unpredictable, but the car companies have to try and make these predictions and then plunk down their billion dollar bets. And it's a very difficult thing to do.
But, you know, the last fuel crisis before this one was back in 1981. And then we have nearly 25 years of cheap fuel, and that's why the cars got bigger and less fuel-efficient. Because customers fundamentally didn't care very much about fuel efficiency when it cost $1.50 a gallon.
CONAN: Well, but, David Champion, no matter what you're designing in terms of, you know, fuel economy - reliability, quality, those things don't go in and out of fashion.
Mr. CHAMPION: That's true. And the PT Cruiser's been one of the shining points in Chrysler's portfolio. When it first came out, it was pretty reliable and it stayed reliable throughout its time. And, yes, fuel economy, we were very disappointed. I think we only got 18 miles per gallon overall with it.
But I agree with Csaba that the manufacturers are playing sort of like a Russian roulette with the American public to see what they will want. If you have a very successful car that hits the market just at the right time - you know, I think Ford has been very successful with the Mustang. There's wasn't much in the marketplace at that time. They came with the Mustang. It's selling, you know, really very well for a car of that class.
And now they have to make sure that that car is reliable. So somebody that bought the Mustang, in two or three years' time, wants to change it for something else. If he's had a lot of trouble with it, he's not going to go back to another Ford.
CONAN: Tara, 18 miles per gallon. Does that sound about right?
TARA: I get about 20, but yeah. Thanks.
CONAN: Okay. Good driving. Thanks very much for the call. We're talking about Detroit's troubles. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And Csaba, I heard you trying to get in there.
Mr. CSERE: Yeah. The one thing a manufacturer should do is to try and have some balance in the product line. When you end up being two-thirds to three quarters on the truck side, you're just very vulnerable to a rise in fuel prices. And you have to have strong trucks, but you also have to have strong cars in case fuel prices go up.
And furthermore, it's not only a question of having good cars, but you have to have cars that you can make a profit on. And that's really the difference between a Toyota and the Big Three. They have much more balance in their lineup, and they probably make more money on the more expensive trucks as well. But they make money on their cars.
So regardless of where the market goes, they have cash flowing in and that's not true of the Big Three right now.
CONAN: Here's an e-mail. This from Dr. Anish Shah(ph), Mr. Champion's eye doctor.
My wife and I bought a top-of-the-line, fully loaded 2004 Quest, and it's been nothing but trouble with many little things going wrong with it since we took it off the lot. The DVD player, the navigation system, the moonroof, the front passenger seat. All have been broken, and thankfully fixed, more than twice now. The front bumpers dent way too easily. The last one happened running over a hump of dirt. P.S. When will you Consumer Report guys take me out to drive the Ferrari on the test track that all of you keep promising me?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. CHAMPION: Yes. Unfortunately, the Quest and some other Nissan products that were newly redesigned - built in a brand new plant in Canton, Mississippi - all turned out to be particularly unreliable. And I know Nissan have spent a lot of time trying to get the Quest, the Titan, the Armada and the QX56 from Infiniti all right.
But it just seems those products were rushed through. The plant may have been rushed through to produce them. And they've all been particularly unreliable.
CONAN: So what you…
Mr. CHAMPION: And I probably will go to a different ophthalmologist to get my next glasses, because he might try and poke them out.
CONAN: And briefly - we just have a couple of minutes left - what you were saying there, David Champion, suggests that maybe all the time the Japanese aren't quite the juggernauts we sometimes think they are.
Mr. CHAMPION: No. And we've seen some problems with the Toyota Avalon that came out and some other products that have come out from the Japanese manufacturers. However, they do seem to get on to them and put them right relatively quickly. You don't have sort of four, five years of really poor reliability with those products.
CONAN: And finally to you, Csaba Csere. Do you think the Big Three are going to have the opportunity to innovate their way out of this mess?
Mr. CSERE: I think they probably have a couple of opportunities left. But they don't have many more shots at this. I think they have to get it right in the next five to 10 years because they can simply not keep shrinking and stay in business.
CONAN: Csaba Csere, thanks very much for being with us. We appreciate your time.
Mr. CSERE: My pleasure.
CONAN: Csaba Csere is editor-in-chief of Car and Driver Magazine. He was with us today from WUOM, our member station in Ann Arbor, Michigan. David Champion, thank you.
Mr. CHAMPION: It was my pleasure. Thank you very much.
CONAN: David Champion, director of Consumer Reports' National Auto Test Center, and he joined us from their offices in East Haddam in Connecticut.
When we come back from a short break, one of the federal judges who's standing to Congress and the White House over the legal rights of terrorism detainees. Plus a torturous day on Capitol Hill. I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.