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Lincoln Motor Company

Ford's luxury brand Lincoln took another step this week towards a hoped-for redemption.

The brand unveiled the MKC, a small crossover.

Lincoln's cars are aging and uncompetitive. Jim Farley, who's in charge of Lincoln, cautions the brand's recovery will take a long time, but he hopes the MKC is a turning point.

It's the first small crossover the brand has launched. "We wanted to challenge preconceived notions that Lincoln only makes big sedans and SUVs," says Farley, noting that sales in the small crossover segment have grown 200% since 2009.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

An old auto plant site is getting new life in Flint.

"We are proud to announce,” Flint Mayor Dayne Walling told a news conference today, “American Pipe will be made in Flint”

Alabama-based American Cast Iron Pipe Company confirmed today that it plans to build a new multi-million dollar manufacturing plant on part of the old Buick City site.

The factory will produce pipes for a project to bring water from Lake Huron to Genesee County. 

Tracy Samilton

Hitting the open road in an RV may seem as American as apple pie -- but in Germany, the activity known as "caravaning" is  -- well, as German as apple strudel.

Thousands of caravanners make their vacation pilgrimage to the Rhine River every year, a favorite destination. 

Whether it's a vineyard that's set aside semi-permanent places for customers who own RVs and trailers, or an overnight RV campsite that is little more than a parking lot - all boast a million dollar view, at a bargain price.

Photo courtesy of Toyota

As every driver is happy to note, gas prices are down. Today you can find gas prices close to, and even under, $3 a gallon.

And just on cue, American are buying pickups and SUVs at rate that hasn’t been seen since the Great Recession began.

Believe it or not, some of that seems to be due to one man — Anchorman Ron Burgundy.

During the baseball playoffs and the World Series, Dodge released commercials with Will Ferrell reprising his Ron Burgundy character. Sales of the 2014 Dodge Durango jumped 58.5 percent as those commercials hit our TV screens.

But haven't we done this before — Americans fall in love with SUVs and pickups, only to have gas prices leapfrog back up, leaving us pining for small, fuel-efficient cars?

Elio Motors

The state legislature has approved a bill to change Michigan's motorcycle laws.  The change will let Elio (pronounced EE-lee-oh) Motors sell a three-wheeled car in the state, without requiring buyers to take a motorcycle safety test, known as a motorcycle endorsement.

The "Elio" is technically a motorcycle because it has three wheels and weighs less than 1,600 pounds. Nonetheless, it is a car, with car safety features like airbags.

Peter Blanchard / Flickr

Imagine driving through Ann Arbor, glancing over at the car next to you only to realize that the driver does not have his or her hands on the steering wheel, yet the car is moving along in traffic just fine.

That could happen in just a few short years.

The University of Michigan has announced plans to bring a fleet of networked, driverless cars to Ann Arbor by 2021.

Here to talk about what that would look like in the streets of Ann Arbor and what that might mean to drivers everywhere is the director of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Peter Sweatman joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Colorful used cars
Zelda Richardson

The carmakers posted October sales increases after a sub-par September.

More from the Associated Press:

The gains signal that automakers made it through the 16-day partial government shutdown relatively unscathed. Chrysler even predicted stronger industry sales for the month than most analysts.

"After a choppy start to the beginning of the month, Chrysler Group sales accelerated in the second half of the month with renewed consumer confidence," Reid Bigland, the company's U.S. sales chief, said in a statement ...

Analysts say the 16-day government shutdown in early October kept buyers out of showrooms early in the month, but that apparently was just a temporary slowdown ...

Auto sales have consistently been a bright spot in the U.S. economy. Sales are closing in on pre-recession rates exceeding 16 million, far above the 2009 trough of 10.4 million.

automotiveauto.info

All three Detroit automakers had a solid third quarter.

Chrysler, the smallest of the three, made $464 million, despite a two-month delay in shipping the new Jeep Cherokee, which was plagued with quality issues.  Most dealers will have the cars by mid-November.  CEO Sergio Marchionne says he has higher expectations for profits in the fourth quarter. 

Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company continues to improve its bottom line, after a massive restructuring effort began in 2006.

The company had a record third quarter profit, before taxes and special taxes. After those expenses, Ford made $1.3 billion from July through September.

It's not just about North America and the highly profitable F-150, says Bob Shanks, Ford's Chief Financial Officer.

Toyota

Toyota is recalling approximately 803,000 model year 2012-2013 Camry, Camry Hybrid, Avalon, Avalon Hybrid, and Venza vehicles due to a problem that could result in air bag failure.

From the company's press release:

In the involved vehicles, water from the air conditioning condenser unit housing could leak onto the airbag control module and cause a short circuit, resulting in illumination of the airbag warning light. In some instances, the air bag(s) could become disabled or could inadvertently deploy.

Ford Motor Company

In recent years, U.S. automakers have introduced a slew of appealing new compact, sub-compact and mini cars.  The trend threatens to make the "econobox" an endangered species.

Econobox is the disparaging term used by many auto analysts and reviewers, including Michelle Krebs of Edmunds.com, to describe a cheaply made, no-frills small car.

Krebs says U.S. domestic car companies were caught flat-footed, with no small cars to offer during the oil crisis of the 1970s.  That left them unable to compete with Toyota and Honda's fuel-efficient and reliable small cars.

General Motors

The fully self-driving or autonomous car is probably decades away.  But partly self-driving cars will be here by the end of the decade, according to General Motors.

GM invited reporters to its Milford Proving Grounds this week to drive Cadillacs equipped with prototypes of the technology - which includes radar, cameras, GPS and maps that help the car drive itself.

Wikipedia

Chrysler Group is preparing an initial public offering of some of its shares.

Chrysler filed paperwork for the IPO with the federal government late Monday.

Chrysler shares haven't been publicly traded since 1998, when the company merged with Daimler AG. It is now majority owned by Italian automaker Fiat SpA.

Chrysler

As tough new fuel economy regulations loom, automakers are scrambling to make their cars' powertrains - that's the engine, batteries, and transmission - as efficient as they can possibly be. 

But that won't be enough to meet the new standard of 49 miles per gallon average by 2025.

Cars will also have to be lighter, because in general, the lighter the car is, the less fuel it requires to move down the road.

So, automakers are looking at ways to use more aluminum and magnesium in their cars. 

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

In what could be a victory for the Detroit-based United Auto Workers, a union official in Tennessee says a majority of workers at Volkswagen's assembly plant in the state have signed cards favoring the UAW’s representation in creating a German-style works council at the plant.

The official told the Associated Press that the cards are as legally binding as an election by the workers.

More from the AP:

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - The government is getting closer to selling all of its General Motors Co. stock.

The Treasury Department said in its August report to Congress that it sold $811 million worth of GM common stock last month.

The report dated Tuesday says the government has recovered about $35.4 billion of the $49.5 billion bailout it gave the Detroit automaker. That means taxpayers are still $14.1 billion in the hole.

automotiontv.com

It's not just "Gen Y" consumers using their smart phone apps, social media, and the internet to decide what car to buy.

Four out of five people used a broad array of digital sources of information when narrowing down their search, according to a new survey by J.D. Power and Associates.

About half did not have a brand preference when they began their search.

Researcher Arianne Walker says car companies need to be everywhere - because consumers are.

Another big recall, this time it's Toyota

Sep 10, 2013
Toyota

(AP) Toyota is recalling 880,584 RAV4 SUVs and Lexus HS 250h sedans in the U.S. and Canada because a repair announced last year may not have solved a safety problem.

RAV4s from the 2006 through 2011 model years and 2010 Lexus HS250hs are involved.

Toyota says if rear suspension nuts aren't tightened properly after a wheel alignment, the arms can rust and separate from the vehicle, increasing the risk of a crash.

At least nine crashes and three injuries are related to the problem.

Peter Martorano / Flickr

There is no small touch of irony in the fact that as Detroit filed for bankruptcy, the U.S. car makers are enjoying boom times. Sales for the Big Three in July were the highest in seven years. GM, Ford and Chrysler are adding shifts and hiring workers. Good times.

But not for the city that gave birth to what we know as the U.S. auto industry.

Tom Walsh, business columnist for the Detroit Free Press, and Sonari Glinton, National Desk Reporter from NPR who has covered transportation and the auto industry, joined us today.

August was a good month for U.S. automakers.

Nearly all automakers are reporting double-digit sales gains as August shapes up to be another strong month for the industry.

Toyota

When Toyota first introduced the Prius in Japan in 1997 and in the U.S. in 2000, the company used its image as a maker of highly reliable, high quality cars to sell the new technology to early adopters.

"The Toyota halo was the closer," says Bob Carter, Toyota's Senior Vice President of Automotive Operations for Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A. Inc. 

Now the opposite is true - Prius provides the halo for Toyota.

Wikipedia

There's been lots to celebrate in terms of sales for the U.S. car makers, bouncing back in a big way from their near-death experiences.

But those strong sales have the auto companies and their suppliers boosting production at a fast rate. And that could be having an unwanted effect---declining customer satisfaction with the vehicles they're turning out.

Claes Fornell, founder of the American Customer Satisfaction Index, joined us today to talk about the latest survey results.

Listen to the full interview above.

Customer satisfaction with car companies dropped slightly from last year, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI).

The index tracks how happy people are with the things they buy. 

Satisfaction dropped even more for Detroit automakers.

Claus Fornell is the founder of the index.   He says two years ago, satisfaction with Detroit car companies and Japanese competitors was a tie.  Now, there's a gap again - and it's the widest in five years.

Wikimedia Commons

A new campaign is underway to try and save the original Model T plant in Highland Park. The Woodward Avenue Action Association launched an online fundraising drive asking supporters to pledge five dollars to turn the old assembly line into a museum and visitor's center.

Five dollars was the daily wage Henry Ford paid his workers so they could afford to buy the car they made.

Deborah Schutt with the Woodward Avenue Action Association says the Model T factory is an important piece of Michigan history. Schutt wants to use National Archives footage of the plant in action to remind visitors of the state's automotive heritage.

"This is where Henry Ford instituted the five dollars a day wage," she said. "What that allowed them to do is actually purchase what it is that they produced, which had a profound effect and really launched the middle class in America."

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

BERKLEY, Mich. (AP) - A big day has dawned in Michigan for classic car enthusiasts in the state that put America on wheels.

The Woodward Dream Cruise officially kicks off Saturday. But the rides - and the legions of folks who love them - have been out for days already along the Detroit-area thoroughfare.

It's the 19th year for the free event, which is hosted by numerous Oakland County communities along the route.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

On Thursday, Ford Motor Company announced it is reducing the fuel economy label on its C-Max hybrid.

Ford's initial rating for the C-Max -- much vaunted in advertisements -- was 47 miles per gallon, in combined city and highway driving.

Now, the sticker will read 43.

Other automakers hope the potential embarrassment for Ford doesn't mean more problems for them.  Calculating fuel economy is complex and expensive enough as it is.

Just how do they get that number?

General Motors

GM will recall 292,879 Chevy Cruze cars from the  2011 and 2012 model years for a potential intermittent loss of partial braking power.

GM says it's aware of 27 low-speed crashes, some of which could be linked to the problem, but no injuries.

The automaker says in rare instances, a driver might have to apply extra force to the brake to get the car to stop.

The recall is for Cruze cars equipped with the 1.4 liter gasoline turbo engine and automatic transmission.

Dealers will remove and replace a microswitch in the power brake vacuum pipe assembly.

Ford Motor Company

The Ford C-Max's fuel efficiency isn't what the Detroit automaker advertised.

According to the Associated Press, this afternoon, Ford Motor Company will announce a change in the model's gas mileage, according to a Ford source who knows about the company's plan. The AP reports the source didn't want to be identified as the announcement has not been made public yet.

The AP writes that the move comes after an investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which enforces mileage estimates. The Ford source said that mileage estimate could be cut from 47 to 43 mpg. 

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The Honda Civic was the only one out of a group of small cars to get a "good" rating on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's new small overlap front crash test. 

The safety group gives cars a "good, acceptable, marginal, or poor" rating for how well a car protects drivers and passengers in different kinds of crashes.

The small overlap situation happens when just the front corner of a car near the headlight hits something, so the force of the impact is not absorbed by the front bumper, engine and hood.

GM

GM announced today that the price of a Chevy Volt will drop by $5,000:

The 2014 model will start at $34,995...

If consumers include federal tax credits ranging from $0-$7,500 (depending on individual tax liability), pricing could start at $27,495.

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