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The Chevy Volt is outselling the Nissan LEAF -- but not by much.  (Source: Autoblog (LEAF), GM (Volt))
EV hopes are weighed down by miserable sales

There certainly seems to be some members of the American public who are enthusiastic about alternative powertrain vehicles.  In February, hybrid auto sales soared 39 percent to reach approximately 23.3k units.  Leading the pack was the veteran Toyota Prius.

But amid that optimistic figure was a bit of not-so-happy news for a couple major automakers.  General Motors only managed to sell 281 Chevy Volts in February, down from 321 in January.  And worse yet, the Nissan LEAF only sold 67 units in the month of February.

To date the Volt has outsold the LEAF, 928 units to 173.  Neither number looks very promising, at face value at least.  

For GM, the issue may lie partially on the supply side.  Dealers are trying to gouge on prices of the scarce Volts, but ultimately these tactics may backfire.  We saw several eBay auctions (which aren't free, mind you) end with no buyers.  In each case, dealers were trying to charge several thousand dollars over the MSRP -- and customers weren't buying.

If GM can pump up its supply, like it's promising, the price may drop to the MSRP and sales may pick up.

With Nissan, the problem and potential solution is likely different.  Arguably Nissan's sales are the bigger disappointment, as the company was promising to beat GM in production volume and sales. However, it is currently failing on those fronts, by all appearances.  One major issue may be limited distribution.  In the U.S., the LEAF only launched in a handful of markets such as California and New York.

Still it's a bit of a mystery how the far-cheaper LEAF has fared so much worse than the Volt.  One possibility is that drivers are scared of not having a backup gas engine (which the Volt has).  At the very least, expanding sales to most of the rest of the country should help the LEAF catch up -- if only a bit.

To add insult to injury, Britain has temporarily banned LEAF vehicles from being sold.  The LEAF contains a noisy backup warning sound to warn pedestrians -- a necessity, given the vehicle's relatively quiet motors.  But apparently that warning violates British noise laws, which prohibits loud noises between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Where recent U.S. laws and federal guidelines require these noises, Nissan is having to race to remove them in Britain.  Rather than making the noises timing dependent, Nissan is attempting a cruder fix -- removing them entirely.  States the company, "The audible system on the LEAF did not allow for [a timing dependent fix], so the beeping sound is being removed entirely before the cars can be driven on roads in [Britain]."

As a result there's a "slight delay" in British sales while the vehicle's firmware is modified in the factory in order to convince Britain to lift the sales ban.

One company that is likely smiling at the sales numbers is Ford.  A late-comer to the EV game, Ford will release a plug-in hybrid EV (PHEV) next year, and a battery-electric vehicle the year after that.  It's clear that even though Ford is coming in a year behind GM and Nissan, that there's plenty of room for improvement in the nascent field.

Another company that is likely pretty satisfied about the news is Tesla Motor Company.  Tesla's Roadster sales pace looks pretty impressive given the higher sticker, when compared to the LEAF.  Dramatic price difference aside, one key difference may be looks.  In an era where the likes of Lady Gaga and Rihanna reign atop pop charts, perhaps the LEAF's bulbous form is a bit too ungainly for a superficial public to bite on.  The sexy curves of a Roadster 2.5 EV or a Fisker Karma might be a little bit more pleasant EV pill to swallow, assuming you can afford it.

 



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not
By Doofenshmirtz on 3/7/2011 5:39:11 PM , Rating: 3
I'm not really surprised by poor sales, are you?




RE: not
By bug77 on 3/7/2011 5:42:50 PM , Rating: 3
There must be a mistake. Surely there must be legions of buyers somewhere, waiting to save the planet. There must be, because I read about that on the internet (and it was on TV, too)!


RE: not
By Sazabi19 on 3/8/2011 11:50:28 AM , Rating: 3
There probably are... and don't call my Shirley.


RE: not
By Autisticgramma on 3/8/2011 2:56:06 PM , Rating: 3
Since when did people looking to save a buck on gas, not save several thousand getting a used car instead? The point is people looking to save money by using an EV need one <20k. If the price is double the (gas)econ car, what did you save?

Hey I know, put a fruit sticker on the door. As long as it has one of those, people LOVE paying double.


RE: not
By callmeroy on 3/8/2011 3:44:09 PM , Rating: 1
You think a bit like me...

Last time I checked these "fancy smancy" hybrids or EVs are far pricier than their ICE counterparts.

I mean even if you blow $2-3k a year on gas, if your new non EV/hybrid car costs as much as $8-$10k LESS (and in some examples thats conservative savings as well)....didn't you already effectively cover a few years worth of gas in the savings?

And if you are saying "yeah" well what happens after you keep the car past the first couple years....well -- you are still ok because a) most folks only hold onto cars for 3-5 years these days anyway and b) the savings you would then realize had you gone with a more expensive EV/Hybrid is not a huge as advertised.

You know what logic is like this as well -- the solar panel "craze".....the promise of the ad "Install solar power and have the electric company PAY YOU!"......the reality -- a full fledge system w ability to replace the electricity company in your house -- that's Tens of thousands of upfront investment.

How much is your electric bill man? On a HORRID month I pay $180...maybe $225 during a cold winter month...even at that rate (180)...that's $2160 / year....so even at $20k for a solar system I'd have to wait almost 10 years to even START a return on my investment.

Folks should really think about these investments we make to save energy and money before they buy into them...


RE: not
By Hiawa23 on 3/8/2011 7:04:48 PM , Rating: 3
Let's see, bad economy, overpriced cars, most folks just holding on from check to check, really not surprised.


RE: not
By hyvonen on 3/8/2011 3:01:23 PM , Rating: 2
In Portland, OR, LEAF had a small pilot program, and the preorder list was full in a blink of an eye. The list was short, though.


RE: not
By Souka on 3/8/2011 3:04:40 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Still it's a bit of a mystery how the far-cheaper LEAF has fared so much worse than the Volt.


A Mystery? Uhm, look at the advertising budgets for Volt... all the press covering it, etc etc.

Lets not forget the "fear" people have of not being able to put gas into it...

Nissan? just a few commericals.

Also, if you were wondering: Would I buy an electric car? Nope.


RE: not
By Alexvrb on 3/8/2011 8:02:58 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Lets not forget the "fear" people have of not being able to put gas into it...
What do you mean? The Volt burns gas just like anything else, once you "deplete" the battery pack. Any salesman at any dealer will tell people this, it is a big selling point over a pure EV.


RE: not
By jaydee on 3/8/2011 3:07:49 PM , Rating: 2
LOL, initial product of the Chevy Volt is ~300 per month, for Q1 2011. Can anyone find a Volt on the lot of a dealership that hasn't been presold already? Didn't think so. Ignorance is bliss I suppose.


RE: not
By Alexvrb on 3/8/2011 8:08:12 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, last I heard they were selling them as fast as they could push them out the door. Unfortunetely, that isn't very fast. They need to step up production.

The price gouging is an issue too, but I'm not sure if there is much they can do about it other than increasing supply, which won't happen overnight.


RE: not
By ArcliteHawaii on 3/9/2011 6:56:37 PM , Rating: 2
I'm surprised they are not trying to sell the Leaf on Oahu. Most people here don't drive 90 miles in a day ever. This is the perfect place to have a limited range EV as an only car. If they sold them here, and I lived in an apartment or house with the right recharging equipment, I would absolutely buy one.


RE: not
By Nutzo on 3/7/2011 5:44:22 PM , Rating: 2
Not suprised at all. Nothing like bringing an overpriced car to market while the economy is still in the tank.
Add in the price gouging, and it's a major fail.


RE: not
By tamalero on 3/8/11, Rating: -1
RE: not
By Sazabi19 on 3/8/2011 11:53:33 AM , Rating: 4
Fuel prices are only rising because of the greedy bastards that are saying lets raise the price because something may happen. Supply has not changed and neither has actual price from when we had our gas for under $3. This is just a bunch of crap. And you sound very European ans snotty to me, knock the high and mighty attitude off, no one appreciates it and you make others in Europe look bad.


RE: not
By Spuke on 3/8/2011 12:04:42 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
But I Still wonder, most people buy cars for the looks or for the "performance numbers" (the classic E-penis is everywhere!)
You don't know much about the US market. This is what Americans buy. With the exception of the pickups, all of the cars on this list are NOT gas guzzlers.

http://online.wsj.com/mdc/public/page/2_3022-autos...


RE: not
By Keeir on 3/8/2011 12:38:04 PM , Rating: 3
Hello Tamalero,

It is an interesting note that when you travel to countries other than the United States and look around... people who can afford "gasguzzlers" have purchased them and used them. Europe is often held up as the "pinnacle" of responsible motoring. Yet, the companies in the US with the lowest CAFE ratings are ... European companies.

People in the United States favor larger "more wasteful" cars because
A.) United States people spend more miles in Cars
B.) United States people spend more hours in Cars
C.) United States people share the road with Larger Trucks/Etc
D.) United States people pay market prices + small taxes for gasoline. A US gallon of gas costs ~$4.00 dollars. Even the cheapest country in Europe is looking at ~6-7 dollars a gallon, some even more.
E.) United States government does not levy large taxes and fees on Automobiles.

Most US consumers (when gasoline prices aren't moving all over the place) are reasonably rational when making car choices. They choose the largest, most comfortable, highest performance, best looking automobile they can for the amount of money they wish to spend. In the United States larger cars are worth more (see A-C) and cost less (see D-E) than in Europe, so the end result is larger cars and more gas consumed. Any people put in the same situation make the same choices.

If the US chooses to improve mass transportation or force people to live closer together, the value of larger cars may drop as the cost of operating them may rise. This would indeed shift the market away from larger cars... at the cost of the happiness dervived from having/using the larger cars. (How many weathly people own just a Honda Fit?)


RE: not
By tamalero on 3/8/2011 1:32:32 PM , Rating: 2
really interesting view, thx for clarification!.

my opinion was based in the fact that I've visited Houston a few times. and honestly, the first thing I noticed in the tollways was;.. how many people have these huge FORD LOBO or similar sized cars! (including the insane gas-trasher Hummer H2)
Pittsburgh in the other hand, wasnt that bad


RE: not
By Keeir on 3/8/2011 1:46:47 PM , Rating: 2
Houston for better or worse is one of the most spread out cities in America and probably the world. Pittsburgh is considerably more dense.

An average Houstonian spends more time in cars and pays even less tax (on said car) than the average Pittsburghian.

But I would point out that many people in the United States buy large trucks because of personal hobbies such as Horse Ranching, Hobby Farming, Water Sports/Towing, etc. And its true that they are often not used enough to justify the purchase of the trucks. People fool themselves into thinking they will have the time/money to enjoy such hobbies. This is one of the reasons people get angry about being "forced" into smaller automobiles, because then they would have to give up the hope that they would get to do such hobbies. The Full-Sized Pickup has essentially replaced the smaller pick-ups in the US market due to small differences in cost and LARGE differences capability.

Again, these are not irrational people. Most Europeans put into Houstan would make very similiar choices as the Texans that live there now.


RE: not
By JediJeb on 3/8/2011 2:06:13 PM , Rating: 2
As someone who actually uses a Pickup Truck on a regular basis the ones you mention have been a thorn in my side for a long time now. It used to be Pickups were simple, plain, no frills vehicles made to do a job. Now they are more like a luxury car with leather seats, carpets, power everything ect. I still drive my 96 model because all the new ones I look at are too expensive and almost make you afraid to scratch them. Used to be a truck was priced at about 1/2 the price of the average car, now many are at or above the price of an average car. What is sad is I paid $42K for my house and 3 acres 5 years ago and I can barely purchase a new truck for even half of that, and to get it at that price I have to special order it with all the bells and whistles removed and wait for it to be delivered.

My current truck has a cloth seat, vinyl floor, radio and A/C, I do kinda wish it had cruise control but I can live without it. We can't even get good deals on stripped down trucks at work anymore, so we just buy 2 year old used ones to save money even though they are still sometimes loaded out with options we don't need. I will try to keep my old one at home going as long as I can because I hate the thought of spending $30k on something I am just going to get dented and scratched while using it.


RE: not
By aguilpa1 on 3/11/2011 4:10:21 PM , Rating: 2
I drive a pick up also and prefer the stripped down models if you can find them. They keep getting bigger and bigger. I bought the last year were a true single cab was available for a Ford truck in 2004. Now even the "single cab" models are extended.

The answer which the auto industry would rather you not know to solve the need for expensive EV is just...., keep your old vehicle for 7 to 10 years. Keep up the maintenance and it will save the environment. No extra vehicles on the road, no extra manufacture or raw materials to use. I gave my last payment over 2 years ago and now my 4.2l truck that gets 20MPG in town with standard 5 speed and 23 on the road costs me just $650 a year on gas per year. I have had to do nothing but put a new battery in it this year at a cost of $180 (it was a nice battery). I plan to keep it at least 3 more years, then find a similar replacement if I can find it. I will have saved THOUSANDS of dollars on payments and no contributed to the extra waste that goes into manufacturing a new vehicle. How green is that?


RE: not
By ImEmmittSmith on 3/8/2011 2:22:22 PM , Rating: 2
Here in Dallas/Fort Worth, yes we love our high performance cars and trucks, but we usually spend 1-2 hours daily commuting and I love the price/performance. I drive a BMW 550i, because I chose too and love the adrenaline rush from hitting the accelerator and being sucked back into my seat. I think people in Europe drive the same type of cars we do, right!?! It is truly a great feeling, but don't get to do that much in the city. But, get me out of the city on some straight farm roads, and 145 mph is magical! So, for the Prius driver that saves a few bucks on fuel, but pays so much for very a little savings and no thrill of the driving experience, they can keep it!! Live is too short to not enjoy the finer things on occasion.


RE: not
By Johnmcl7 on 3/8/2011 4:52:07 PM , Rating: 1
As someone who lives in Europe and been to the US, your arguments make little sense or plain wrong:

"People in the United States favor larger "more wasteful" cars because
A.) United States people spend more miles in Cars

This is a counterpoint as surely if spending more miles in the car then fuel efficiency should be a greater concern rather than a reason for having a less efficient car. There's plenty of people in Europe spend their days driving all day and surprise, surprise efficient diesel engines are the choice for such work, not gas guzzlers.

B.) United States people spend more hours in Cars

Not really sure what this has to do with fuel consumption, again as per the previous point there's plenty of people in the EU who spend a lot of time in cars and you don't need a large inefficient engine to be comfortable, just look at BMW's diesel engines.

C.) United States people share the road with Larger Trucks/Etc

Simply not true, we have large trucks in Europe as well but again I'm struggling to see what this has to do with fuel effiency. If this is to do with the safety rating of a vehicle and therefore 'bigger is better' then this probably is more an issue in the UK than the US as we have the problem of left hand drive trucks on UK roads. Due to the driver being on the left it's very easy for a car to sit in a blind spot which means when the truck moves to overtake they sideswipe the car

D.) United States people pay market prices + small taxes for gasoline. A US gallon of gas costs ~$4.00 dollars. Even the cheapest country in Europe is looking at ~6-7 dollars a gallon, some even more.
E.) United States government does not levy large taxes and fees on Automobiles."

Your last two points are really the only genuine ones, if it wasn't for the high tax rate on petrol and high road tax on vehicles with high emissions there probably wouldn't be the same drive on fuel efficiency.


RE: not
By Marlonsm on 3/7/2011 5:50:20 PM , Rating: 1
I'm also not surprised. I wouldn't buy an all-electric car myself yet, even if I had the money. They just aren't ready for everyday use for most people, slow charging in limited stations being the biggest problem.

But that's a start, and hopefully those few sales will start adding up to a number big enough so that a good infrastructure is created.
And with a larger production, tech will improve and get cheaper.

One example of how a good infrastructure can be created given enough time is Brazil.
In late 70s the government started promoting ethanol (from sugar cane) as an alternate fuel. A decade later, most new cars were already running on ethanol. Today almost all cars sold here are flex fuel, can run both on gas and on ethanol or a mixture of both. And usually ethanol is much cheaper than gas.


RE: not
By vol7ron on 3/7/2011 8:15:31 PM , Rating: 3
Instead of slow charging stations, I would like to see drive-thru battery replacements.

Instead of having to charge your battery, the station would charge a battery for you. Basically, electric cars should facilitate a mechanism to easily pull out the battery. Then, you simply put that in some console at the electric station, which would lock, then it would unlock the other side of the console, which would contain a fully charged battery.

This could all be managed by an independent company, which would run annual quality checks on the batteries to make sure they are falling in some level of quality control to hold a particular charge.

To me, the idea of easily exchanging batteries is more practical, then sitting at a fueling station to slowly charge it; especially when a lot of these vehicles will be used in cities, where owners don't have garages or the means to plug in their cars.

-- What do you guys think?


RE: not
By Marlonsm on 3/7/2011 8:36:00 PM , Rating: 2
I also like this idea, but it's not without problems.
It would either force manufacturers to adopt a standard battery, slowing down innovations (not good at this point) or force people to own more than one battery so one can be recharged at the station while the other is being used.


RE: not
By vol7ron on 3/7/2011 11:39:49 PM , Rating: 2
Maybe it would just standardize the battery casing, not the battery per se; a standardized battery chasis might lead to a little economy to scale and cheaper battery. This could allow for a variety of capacities/types and internal technologies, that could all be interchanged.

Also, perhaps this could be a subscription service, rather than something that's mandatory. First, starting in the big cities (as mentioned) and then branching out to the 'burbs.

Still, the point would be that the station would do all the charging, and they should have a few hundred available. It should also create jobs as there would need to be some way to scan and set aside certain batteries that are out of service, though this task could be made easy with stickers, scanners, or color coding.

Really, though, batteries are environmentally unfriendly. People that think they are greener than "gas guzzlers" don't understand all that's involved from creation to disposal. Not to say that the historic application is any better, just, it's generally not a good idea to replace a noticeable problem that everyone can see public eye, with a solution that seems better because people don't see it, but it still exists in the background. All that's done is creating false-comfort.


RE: not
By tamalero on 3/8/2011 1:35:59 PM , Rating: 2
I suppose a similar approach as how some manufacturers of batteries are making only AA base alcaline, the rest are just AA batteries with cassing on top.


RE: not
By JediJeb on 3/8/2011 1:54:04 PM , Rating: 2
I guess one problem would be that the stations would need to be spaced out at less than the range of the batteries. If the max range was 100 miles then every 80 miles or so there would have to be a station to do the exchange, which would allow for long trips, otherwise if you are simply driving 20 miles a day it would be more convenient to just charge at home. For apartment dwellers without a garage there could be special combination parking meters/charge stations placed around for those where you swipe a card that will send in a final bill once you unplug, which is the same as filling with gasoline.


RE: not
By Proton on 3/7/2011 10:31:44 PM , Rating: 3
During the energy crisis of the 70's, I read about the idea of exchanging batteries as you mention. So that idea is very old, and obviously the problems of ending up with bad batteries and not being able to get you potentialy brand new ones back after an exchange, probably has made this technique still not possible to this day.


RE: not
By Spuke on 3/7/2011 11:31:05 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
probably has made this technique still not possible to this day
It's possible but how many people would willingly give up their brand new battery for an "old" one with an unknown amount of cycles.


RE: not
By vol7ron on 3/7/2011 11:57:30 PM , Rating: 1
I won't comment too much on this, but this would go into quality tests and some amount of regulation. The batteries would need to be service tested once/twice a year for quality.

Instead of giving up your own battery, you could buy into this service and they could give you one to start with. You could always lug around your extra as a back-up in case you break down sometime, or something happens to the one you're issued - sort of like carrying around a spare tire.

The more I think about the idea, the more I would be likely to buy a hybrid/electric. This is saying something, because I'm more for HP and torque and more opposed to the "green" electric movement at the moment, at least until it really becomes more green.


RE: not
By Schrag4 on 3/8/2011 9:24:18 AM , Rating: 2
Service stations would have to test the batteries that you bring to ensure that they're still good before they could swap them out. If they didn't, then a competing service station would simply have an employee drive an unmarked, station-owned car over with their bad batteries to swap out for good ones.

If this test takes a few seconds, then fine. If it takes 10 minutes, no thanks. Anyone have any idea how long it takes to test these batteries?


RE: not
By vol7ron on 3/9/2011 11:27:16 PM , Rating: 2
That's where the regulation comes into play. It'd be similar to how trash dumps work and how state inspections work on cars today.

The gas stations would just need to set aside the spare batteries that are out of service. There would be a weekly (or scheduled) pickup and the service station would get paid some percentage to do the work.

More than likely there would be only one company that handles the logistics of this type of service - that is the maintenance and actual ownership of the batteries. The consumer (day-to-day drivers) don't need to worry about any of this. They wouldn't see any delay, the gas/charging stations don't have stock in the batteries. They just charge the old batteries and make money on the swaps. The service station doesn't really need to stand by and check on things, a computer system could easily run quality checks w/o a person even being there. It's a win-win-win.

I don't mind being down-rated, but I do like to know reasons - maybe something I said was just retarded :)


RE: not
By vol7ron on 3/7/2011 11:51:24 PM , Rating: 2
I wasn't around in the 70's so I wouldn't know about this; but that goes to show that no one really owns an idea.

quote:
obviously the problems of ending up with bad batteries and not being able to get you potentialy brand new ones back after an exchange, probably has made this technique still not possible to this day

I also was thinking of that exact problem while I wrote it. That is why I was thinking of scanning measures and quality tests on returned batteries. Really, you (the company) don't need to run quality tests all the time, you only need to run it once or twice a year on a battery - there could be a whole set of regulation involved, which could also create some jobs, or some additional income for mechanics. Batteries could have stickers on them to show when they were last tested. Also, drivers wouldn't really own the battery. They would only be using the battery for one charge, which could last them several hundreds of miles depending on if they drive a hybrid, or pure electric.

The bigger problem is having enough "fully charged" batteries on-hand for hot swaps. I'm not sure how frequent drivers would need to exchange at the station - perhaps a station could get by with numbers in the tens, since people don't exchange all that the same time and charges last a while.

The bigger issue, though, would be to push manufactures to have an easy way to pull out and insert (possibly many) batteries. I suppose the positive and negative contacts could be internal and the batteries themselves could have handles with safelock latches, that make them easy to slide in and out.


RE: not
By Spuke on 3/8/2011 12:40:28 PM , Rating: 2
Self discharge on these batteries is relatively low and they don't need to be stored fully charged. You could just cycle then load test them before you gave them out. The negative part is that these are "big" batteries and cycling them would take quite a while unless you have a large amp load and a large amp charger.


RE: not
By SnakeBlitzken on 3/8/2011 9:22:43 AM , Rating: 2
How would you feel about driving up to an exchange station in a brand new vehicle and swapping out for an old, used up battery? It would be inevitable but a little hard to take the first time.


RE: not
By jamesjwb on 3/8/2011 8:58:05 AM , Rating: 2
I'm not sure it's true these days. In Brazil the price has slowly crept up on Ethanol, and while it's cheaper per litre, it burns quicker, so you run out faster. It may still be cheaper, but not by much anymore.


RE: not
By Marlonsm on 3/8/2011 8:48:19 PM , Rating: 2
Usually it's much cheaper to use Ethanol. Although it gets you about 70% to 80% of the range, some times it's just over half the price of gas.
Right now it's not worth it, at least not in my state, but as most cars are flex fuel, all we need to do is to use gas until the prices go down again.


RE: not
By NicodemusMM on 3/7/2011 8:11:01 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not surprised by the poor sales given the mark-up from dealers on the Volt and the lack of range on the LEAF. I'd love to have an EV of some sort... but I can't really sacrifice comfort in order to do so. Traveling 250-600 miles/day means that comfort is as much (if not more) of a priority than gas mileage.

Until the tech matures more (specifically in storage) sales of vehicles such as this will remain stunted until the cost of fuel demands otherwise.


RE: not
By ZeeStorm on 3/8/2011 11:54:29 AM , Rating: 2
Wow, has nobody pointed out... the Volt is not an EV. Stop referring to it as one. It's an electric hybrid, very similar to the Prius -- which is also NOT an EV. Tesla Roadster? That's an EV. Nissan Leaf? That's an EV. Fisker Karma? That's not an EV.

Stop comparing 2 totally different cars, as they have 2 totally different purposes (Volt can go long distances, Leaf can't, etc.).


RE: not
By stephenbrooks on 3/8/2011 6:40:20 PM , Rating: 2
--[I'm not really surprised by poor sales, are you?]--

I'm not surprised by the poor sales because the LEAF looks like arse. ;)


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