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Gentlemen, Remote-Start Your Engines and Relax

Gentlemen, start your engines. And put your feet up.

Germany gives us 150-mph cars developed for the autobahn, and Japan gives us cars with great fit and finish because Japanese consumers are so finicky. But snowy Detroit gives us cars with remote starting.

The term "Detroit" gets abused so much in the automotive press -- with Chrysler and GM going bankrupt and all -- you can forget sometimes that Detroit has a lot of good ideas, too.

Remote-start lets you press a button on your key fob to start your engine and pre-heat or pre-cool the interior without having to go outside. With winter getting underway, GM, Chrysler and Ford (F) all recently put out separate press releases promoting the fact that they're selling a lot more remote-start options. Notice, Chrysler's photo features a hand that's not wearing a glove. That's something you don't see too often in Detroit in the winter.

Chrysler says remote-start is now available on nearly 90 percent of its Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge products. In 2009, remote-start sales for its Mopar parts division are about 25,000 units. That doesn't sound like much, but it's a 20 percent increase for the year.

Ford said its orders for factory-installed remote start are up 40 percent this year, although that, too, is starting from a relatively small number. Previously, remote-start was a dealer-installed option, the company said.

GM said 80 percent of Chevy Tahoe and Suburban models have the factory-installed remote-start feature, plus high order rates on other models, like Malibu and Impala cars, and the Traverse crossover.

The forces of environmental political correctness may say that remote-start wastes gas, and I have no ready answer for that. However, Ford says that remote-start actually cuts down on emissions by pre-heating the catalytic converter. The company says that a car with a cold catalytic converter produces a hugely disproportionate amount of emissions, the first few times the driver steps on the gas.

Other auto-producing regions around the world could have popularized remote-starting, but it's an especially appealing feature in Detroit. I worked in New York City for Detroit-based Automotive News for a long time, and that entailed a fair number of trips to Detroit. It seemed like it was always either zero degrees there or 100 degrees in the shade, with nothing in between.

It's a no-brainer whether you'd rather slip into a warm car with the windows already defrosted, or try to scrape the windshield with a credit card before your nose, lips and eyeballs freeze shut.

To coin a phrase, necessity is the mother of invention.

Photo: Chrysler

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