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12:01 am
Wed July 30, 2014

Many cars still having trouble with IIHS small overlap crash test

Result of small overlap crash test for Hyundai Sonata. Note how the passenger compartment remains largely intact.
Credit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

A year after the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety introduced it, many automakers are still having trouble designing cars that can do well on the "small overlap" crash test.

A small overlap crash happens when just the corner of the front of a car hits something, like another car, or a tree or a pole.

That kind of a crash can bypass the "crumple zone" of the front of the car, which is meant to absorb the force of the crash, protecting the people inside the passenger compartment from death or injury.

IIHS recently tested 12 small new cars for small overlap protection; only one, the Mini Cooper Countryman, received the highest grade of "Good."

Five others, the Chevy Volt, the Ford C-Max Hybrid, the Mitsubishi Lancer, the Scion FR-S, and the Subaru BRZ, got the next highest mark of "Acceptable."

Because the Chevy Volt also offers buyers the option of a front collision warning, the Institute gave the car its Top Safety Pick Plus award.

Four cars got a "Poor" rating, including the Fiat 500-L, the Nissan Juke, the Nissan Leaf, and the Mazda 5.

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Stateside
4:00 pm
Tue July 29, 2014

GM recalls bring in revenue for dealerships

Credit GM

We’ve all heard about one recall after another from General Motors. But what does that mean for the dealer? Lester Graham stopped by Victory Chevrolet Buick in Milan and talked to salesperson Sean Johnson about the recalls.

“It’s a lot more business in the service end of it,” Johnson said. “Negative wise, I think people are kind of scared to buy a GM product.”

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Stateside
3:54 pm
Tue July 29, 2014

GM struggling to overhaul its corporate culture

General Motors has been in the news a lot, probably more than it wants to be. Daniel Howes, a business columnist at The Detroit News, wrote an article about the automaker's struggle to overhaul its culture in the wake of failed parts, recalls, government criticism, and more.

Howes described GM’s corporate culture in his article as “blame-shifting, lack of accountability, and a callous disregard for customers.”

He said changing the leadership and putting new people on the board of directors may be necessary, but is not enough to change the culture of the company.

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Stateside
5:59 pm
Thu July 17, 2014

GM CEO Mary Barra defends general counsel in congressional hearing

Credit General Motors

Today brought the fourth appearance for General Motors and CEO Mary Barra before angry members of Congress.

This time a Senate subcommittee took a deeper dive into the ignition switch recalls and didn't like what it saw in GM's legal department.

Michigan Radio's auto reporter Tracy Samilton followed the event.

According to Samilton, GM's chief counsel Michael Millikin was in the "uncomfortable Senate spotlight" today.

When senators asked why Millikin still kept his job, Barra said she "respectfully" disagreed with them, and she defended Millikin as a man of "incredibly high integrity."

She said Millikin "had a system in place." Unfortunately, in this instance "it wasn't brought to his attention."

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Auto
3:08 pm
Thu July 17, 2014

GM says it has replaced 491,000 ignition switches

Credit NHTSA

DETROIT - General Motors says it has replaced faulty ignition switches on just under 20 percent of 2.6 million small cars that are being recalled.

The company has repaired just over 491,000 cars that are covered by the recall announced in February.

Switch maker Delphi Automotive says it has produced over 1 million parts and expects to have made 2 million by the end of August. GM says it expects all parts to be made by late October.

Delphi CEO Rodney O'Neal tells lawmakers his company has added three lines to speed up production.

Some car owners have complained it's taking too long for GM to finish repairs.

The switches can slip into the accessory position and unexpectedly shut off engines. That has caused crashes that killed at least 13 people.

Auto safety
2:36 pm
Wed July 16, 2014

Teens should not be driving old, small cars, says safety group

IIHS says parents should "buy as much safety as you can afford" when shopping for a used car for a teen driver.
Credit IIHS / Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

A new analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety finds that a disproportionate number of teenagers who died in car accidents were driving older, smaller cars.

Small, older model cars tend to be lightweight and lack electronic stability control and side air bags. 

Yet these are the cars parents typically buy for their teens, who are the least experienced drivers on the road. 

Russ Rader of IIHS says cost shouldn't be the only factor when choosing a car for a young driver.

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Auto
3:07 pm
Fri July 11, 2014

No, car sales are not going to just keep growing and growing forever

This has been a very good year for car sales.
Credit GM

Here's the main case to be made for annual car sales in the U.S. exceeding 18 million some day: 

Unlike other mature car markets (Europe), the U.S. population is still growing.  So....the more people there are, the more cars they will buy.  

The argument acknowledges that many young people are postponing buying cars, but says that's just because it's hard to get a job right now.  As soon as the economy improves, they'll buy cars, just like their parents.

But a new study by AlixPartners says that's ignoring a lot of trends that will push car ownership rates down.

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Auto
11:33 am
Fri July 11, 2014

Some Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Durangos recalled

A 2011 Durango.
Credit IFCAR / Flickr

Chrysler says it is recalling 651,000 Jeep and Dodge SUVs in the U.S. because vanity mirror lights that have undergone repairs can short circuit and start a fire if not reassembled correctly.

The recall is for certain 2011 to 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango models. Chrysler says it has seen the problem only in lighted sun visor mirrors that have been repaired. But as a precaution, it says the recall applies to all of the vehicles.

The automaker says it knows of three injuries caused by the lighted mirror.

Chrysler will contact customers and let them know when they can have the problem fixed.

The recall will total 895,000 SUVs around the world. About 45,000 are in Canada, 23,000 are in Mexico and 175,000 are outside North America.

Chrysler says customers with additional questions can call their customer assistance center at 1-800-853-1403.

Auto
5:39 pm
Wed July 9, 2014

Europe auto industry faces headwinds....but more recalls not one of them

Ford sales in Europe rose 6.6% in the first half of 2014
Credit Ford Motor

The auto industry in Europe may be on the way back up, after hitting rock bottom last year, but its woes are by no means over, says Ford's head of Europe, Middle East and Africa, Stephen Odell.

Overcapacity is a persistent concern, he says.   Some European factories are still operating at about 70% of their capacity, although Ford itself has taken steps to reduce its factory and labor costs - having closed one Ford plant in the U.K. and soon to close another in Belgium.

Odell says the biggest factor depressing car sales is the 20 to 25% unemployment rates in southern European countries like Spain and Greece.

"I think the biggest inhibiters is probably employment levels," Odell told a roundtable of journalists in Dearborn.  "Which is why, in our forecast, we have a sort of modest and slow recovery for the next four to five years."

Odell says Ford does expect to regain profitability in Europe next year.

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Auto
12:01 pm
Tue July 8, 2014

Ann Arbor latest city to tangle with Uber, Lyft

Screen for getting a ride on Uber or Lyft
Credit Flickr

The app-based, taxi-like services UberX  and Lyft are in talks with the city of Ann Arbor - after the city sent the companies a "cease and desist" letter. 

This is just the latest of many legal tangles across the country for the companies, which are operating in a new grey area of transportation-for-hire. 

The companies say they are "rideshare services."  State and local transportation officials call them "transportation network companies," but insist that many of the regulations applying to traditional taxis also apply to these new services.

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Stateside
12:01 pm
Wed July 2, 2014

Where do auto museums flourish? Surprisingly, not in Michigan

All F1 Car story in Automobiles Museum of Turin
Credit Wikimedia Commons

There are many different auto museums – some dedicated to displaying cars with unique engineering and designs, and others dedicated to displaying the automobile’s impact on society.

Michigan's auto museums have had little success. Flint’s "Autoworld" theme park closed two years after opening, and the Walter P. Chrysler Museum closed its doors recently.

Europe has had a different experience.

Autostadt, which means “auto city” in German, is in Wolfsburg, Germany. It averages about two million visitors per year. BMW and Porsche also have notable museums in Germany.

Why do auto museums in Europe succeed, while those in the auto capital of the world have not?

“Europeans seem to have such a deep bond with their vehicles,” says Paul Eisenstein, publisher of  The Detroit Bureau. “They are seemingly more interested in the mechanicals and what have you. They have a tendency to be drawn to automotive exhibits, museums, parks, and everything at a much greater rate than Americans are.”

*Listen to our interview with Eisenstein at 3 p.m. today. We'll post the audio for that interview here around 4:30 p.m. 

Stateside
11:49 am
Wed July 2, 2014

"Autoworld" opened its doors in Flint 30 years ago

1913 Studebaker Type 35 Model AA, Autoworld Brussels
Credit Wikimedia Commons

30 years ago, "Autoworld" opened its doors on July 4, 1984 in Flint, Michigan.

It was an indoor theme park and museum dedicated to preserving and spreading automotive achievements.  

Bill Shea, editor and reporter for Crain’s Detroit Business, said that the attraction wasn’t that popular and visitors were confused about what Autoworld was.

Was it supposed to be a museum or a theme park?

This led people to ask why a group of people invested $80 million into the endeavor.

Organizers hoped Autoworld would revitalize the inner city of Flint, develop Michigan’s tourism industry, and preserve the automotive history in the city.

But, in 1987, the attraction closed its doors permanently. Here's a video of them imploding the building from ABC News:

*You can hear our interview with Bill Shea today at 3 p.m. We'll add the interview to this post at 4:30 p.m.

Auto
5:24 pm
Tue July 1, 2014

Fiat Chrysler continues U.S. sales increase streak

Credit Atlanta Jeep Ram Dodge

Fiat Chrysler continued its climb back to health in June.  It was the 51st month in a row the automaker increased its U.S. year-over-year sales.

The long streak of sales gains is being led by the Jeep and RAM brands. 

Jeep sales rose 28% compared to last June, and RAM sales were up 14%.

"In spite of two fewer selling days in June versus a year ago, we were able to increase our sales 9% and post our strongest June sales in seven years," said Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales for Chrysler.

The automaker remains weak in terms of small and midsize car sales.  The Dodge Dart has performed well under expectations, selling only 7,225 in June. 

But the company has higher hopes for the new Chrysler 200, which began shipping to dealers in late spring.

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Auto
4:46 pm
Tue July 1, 2014

GM sales are not plummeting despite recalls, scandal

GM sold 11,147 Chevy Tahoes in June, 2014.
Credit General Motors

General Motors' sales rose 1% in June - despite two fewer sales days in the month, despite a delayed recall scandal, and despite the company issuing a record number of recalls.

The Detroit automaker's sales were the best for June since 2007.

Karl Brauer is an analyst with Kelly Blue Book. 

He says the media and Congress have displayed an intense interest in GM's admission that it delayed an ignition switch recall for eleven years. 

Customers aren't paying as much attention.   

"Most people look at this recall as old GM and old models that has nothing to do with what's in the showroom right now," says Brauer.

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Auto
6:10 pm
Mon June 30, 2014

GM issues massive recall of 7.4 million cars for ignition switch problem

GM recalled an additional 7.36 million cars  for what it calls "unintended ignition switch rotation."

That's the same problem at the root of an earlier recall of cars with a defective ignition switch. In February, GM recalled 2.6 million Cobalts, HHRs, Saturn Ions and other small cars with a defective ignition switch.

In both recalls, the car's ignition switch can suddenly turn off, which disables the power steering, power brakes, and air bags.

The new recall is for:

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Auto
5:51 pm
Mon June 30, 2014

Compensation for ignition-switch crashes announced

GM has recalled 2.6 million Cobalts, HHRs and other small cars for a defective ignition switch
Credit NHTSA

GM will pay a minimum of $1 million to victims of serious or fatal crashes involving cars with a faulty ignition switch. 

GM admits it delayed a recall of small cars with a defective switch for 11 years. 

GM says 13 people died and 54 were injured when the ignition switch turned off, disabling the power steering, power brakes, seat belt pretensioners and air bags. 

But attorneys for victims' families say there are many more such cases. 

The program is run by Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw similar programs for victims of the BP oil spill and 9/11.  He says it won't be easy to determine who's eligible.

"So many of these accidents occurred long ago," Feinberg says. "The car is gone, and we've gotta come up with circumstantial evidence."

But Feinberg says he will work with families who wish to file claims, or their attorneys, to guide them through what kinds of evidence would substantiate a claim – such as police reports, medical reports, black box data, and witness statements.

The program will also pay for victims' lost earnings and long-term care.

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Stateside
12:02 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

Ford CEO Mulally leaves behind big shoes for successor to fill

Outgoing Ford CEO Alan Mulally.
Credit Ford Motor Company

Alan Mulally will hand over his Ford CEO job to Mark Fields next Tuesday. 

Fields has been with Ford since 1989 and the chief operating officer since 2012.

Mulally came to Ford as an auto outsider and many questioned his ability to turn the struggling company around.

Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes was one of the doubters. Howes is now happy to say he was wrong. And Mulally has created big shoes for Fields to fill

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Stateside
4:32 pm
Thu June 19, 2014

Mary Barra appears before House subcommittee on ignition-switch debacle

Credit General Motors

General Motors CEO Mary Barra appeared this week before a House subcommittee that is investigating the automaker's ignition-switch debacle.

Barra didn't sugarcoat the fact that GM bungled this terribly. She freely admitted their engineers knew about the switch problems 12 years ago, but didn't connect that to the airbag malfunction linked to at least 13 deaths.

And Barra had a litany of changes she's instituted in response, including firing 15 high-level employees.

Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes says this has to go deeper.

“Members of Congress, to put it gently, (are) skeptical that a company like this with the track record that it’s had, particularly in the last five years, would be able to do that,” Howes said.

Howes says with exception of the president of GM, those at the top of the company are longtime General Motors people.

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Auto
10:28 am
Thu June 19, 2014

Car initial quality slips due to increased complexity: JD Power

2014 Hyundai Elantra
Credit Hyundai

The increased complexity of cars is causing an uptick in problems reported in the first 90 days of ownership, according to an annual survey by J.D. Power.

Problems reported by owners in the first 90 days rose 3% for 2014 model year cars over last year. 

The group says that's because of the increased complexity and features in new cars, especially when it comes to voice recognition and Bluetooth syncing. 

The harsh winter also caused some extra problems with paint, engine performance, and heating systems. 

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Auto
7:08 am
Thu June 19, 2014

Europe's car sales on the rise again

Credit user: harry_nl / flickr

The word from Europe is new car sales were up in May.

It's the ninth straight monthly increase, which is good news for the U.S. carmakers who've been watching their bottom lines suffer through the European sales slump.

There were 1.1 million new cars registered in the European Union, an increase of 4.3%.

Increased auto sales include:

·         7.7% in the United Kingdom

·         5.2% in Germany

·         17 % in Spain

Stateside’s partner, BBC Business reporter Russell Padmore, says the big reason for the uptick in sales is an "aging car fleet.” During the debt crisis, Europeans held off from buying new cars to save money. Now they can’t hold off any longer. 

*Listen to full interview above. 

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