My horn is tooting
And the answer is "Yes"

Beep, beep!

This New York Times story notes that SUVs have fallen out of favor and are being replaced by basic cars. One Chrysler exec pronounces, "The price of fuel matters."

Ya think? How, with such insight, are American automakers trailing their Japanese counterparts?

A lot of auto owners who are switching from SUVs to basic four-wheel transportation are probably parents schlepping around little Jimmy and Janie to all their extracurricular activities. And it's a good bet that at least some of those parents are telling everyone just how wonderful their little soccer and ballet and classroom stars are.

Well, enough already from you overly boastful parents. Not everyone is as enamored of your progeny!

Stephanie Rosenbloom writes in the New York Times that a certain amount of bragging has long been considered a right of parenthood: "It mixes delight in a child's success with a dash of pride that one cannot help but feel as a parent. But when bragging becomes competitive, making parents feel as if they are being drawn into a game of one-upmanship, it takes on a sinister air."

No doubt it's just such parents who have one of those ubiquitous bumper stickers on the back fender. You know the kind. It tells whoever is stuck in traffic behind them that their kid is an honor student or a merit scholar or in some other way worthy of adoration by you, a total stranger.

The folks at Elite Design Web are at least thankful for the 3-by-11.5-inch manifestations of braggadocio; the company sells standard stickers or lets parents of offspring perceived to be particularly special make their own. Chihuahua_2

Of course, there's the expected backlash. I love the stickers that proclaim "My Chihuahua is smarter than your honor student" or "My kid can beat up your honor-roll student."

Some have even taken on satiric political twists, a la this offering from the White House Officious Gift Shop at Cafepress.com. Pol_parent_bumper_5
I wonder how many of these stickers -- sincere, arrogant or flip -- will show up on new hybrid vehicles? Perhaps a few more than before, what with SUVs and other gas-guzzlers falling out of favor.

MSNBC reports that a new fleet of hybrids will be on display at this year's North American International Auto Show. But, according to the story, the messages surrounding hybrids are mixed:

"Some industry analysts say these vehicles and others coming to market in 2006 will spur more phenomenal growth for the U.S. hybrid market, which has increased by more than 140 percent in the past year alone. But others wonder if that growth will begin to stall, since hybrid vehicles remain far more expensive than their gas-powered counterparts."

Part of that price differential might be offset by a new tax credit that took effect Jan. 1 and which could take as much as $3,400 directly off your tax bill. The tax break may be just what it takes to move hybrids from the showroom to the road.

TODAY'S TAX TIP offers details on the new hybrid vehicle tax credit. A tax break for environment-friendly autos isn't new. But in previous years (which also means your 2005 return due in April) the most you could get for buying a hybrid was a deduction.

Credits, however, are better than deductions. A deduction reduces your taxable income, which in most cases lowers your tax bill. But with a credit, you get to subtract the credit amount directly from what you owe Uncle Sam. So if you owe the IRS $3,000 on your 2006 return and then the Prius you buy this year offers a credit of $2,500, then your bill will fall to only $500.

Of course, that Prius credit amount is only for example purposes. The IRS hasn't yet issued its rules on what cars will be eligible and just how much tax advantage they're worth.

An auto dealer probably will be able to give you an estimate of an auto's expected credit and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy has put together this table of what it believes will be the credit for selected vehicles. But remember: The only numbers that count officially are the ones from the IRS.

If you want to take advantage of whatever the new tax credit might be, you also should consider buying your hybrid earlier this year rather than later. The law only allows the full credit for the first 60,000 tax-approved vehicles, so makers of the most popular ones are likely to see their stock of fully tax-favored hybrids go quickly. Vehicles sold after the 60,000 mark will get a reduced credit.

One last piece of advice. Whatever car you get, if you put a bumper sticker on it, also have some Goo Gone handy for possible removal. You never know when your star pupil might turn into a juvenile delinquent!

CARNIVAL RIDE: update 1.13.06 Driven to find find more auto info? Check out  Tapscott Behind the Wheel today, where he's assembled a Carnival of Cars, a look at some recent, compelling and downright fun automotive tidbits from the blogosphere.

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