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3:51 pm
Mon September 1, 2014

Auto industry, regulators prepare for "mid-term review" of CAFE

Ford's three-cylinder Ecoboost engine. Ford's strategy to meet new fuel economy standards includes smaller engines and lightweighting.
Credit Ford Motor Company

To most of us, 2017 is three years away.

To the auto industry, it's just around the corner.  The fast-paced industry develops its vehicles three to five years ahead of when they will be on the market.

So, there's already a lot of talk about what's going to happen during the midterm review in 2017.

That's when everyone gets together to determine if the nation's ambitious new fuel economy standards for the years 2022-2025 are technologically feasible - without making vehicles so expensive we can't afford them, or so impractical we don't want them. 

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Auto
10:56 am
Tue August 26, 2014

Car customer satisfaction slips for almost all, more for non-U.S. brands

Chevrolet and Buick were the only two brands to see an increase in customer satisfaction in the 2014 American Customer Satisfaction Index.
Credit GM

Customer satisfaction with new cars declined for the second year in a row. 

This year, satisfaction with new car purchases declined a little more than one percent, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index. 

Founder Claus Fornell says car companies are churning out cars pretty fast these days to meet the high demand.  That may be increasing quality problems - and  recalls.

"It's a nuisance or worse, for consumers," says Fornell, "and therefore, it's not surprising that customer satisfaction is lower for those people who have had a recall."

But Fornell says satisfaction with cars is still quite high compared to most industries. That's because there's been a dramatic improvement in car quality.

"Compared to let's say 20-25 years ago, all these products are very good.   It is not low satisfaction compared to other industries, but it is going in the wrong direction."

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Auto
3:35 pm
Mon August 25, 2014

Tiny company has big hopes for more propane-fueled cars

Filling up with liquid natural gas, aka, propane, aka, autogas
Credit David Villa

Propane production in the U.S. is booming - and so is business for a small Michigan company that retrofits vehicles to run on the fuel.

Albert Venezio is Chairman of Icom North America.  Icom N.A. has 25 employees and is based in New Hudson, Michigan.

Albert Venezio, the company's North American Chairman, says propane, otherwise known as autogas, is cheaper and cleaner than diesel or gasoline, and it's ideal for fleets, delivery vans, and school buses. 

One big customer is Metro Cars at Detroit Metro Airport.  The company has converted all its vehicles to run on the Icom system.  The system allows cars to switch between propane or gasoline as needed.

"We can reduce their  fuel costs at least a dollar a gallon, sometimes as much as $2 a gallon, and we reduce emissions probably in the 30-50% ratio, and they use a domestic fuel," says Venezio.

Propane is found wherever natural gas is found.  The natural gas fracking boom has caused a plentiful supply of propane.

Venezio says the U.S. may have enough propane deposits to fuel 5 million vehicles annually.   Right now, about 200,000 vehicles in the U.S. can run on propane. 

The numbers of propane vehicles are much higher in Europe, where taxes make diesel and gasoline fuels very expensive.

Vehicles running on propane get about 10% lower fuel economy - but the fuel produces about a third  lower CO2 emissions - and zero particulate matter. 

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Auto
12:32 pm
Fri August 22, 2014

Biggest model transition in Ford history begins Friday

The first F-series truck made by Ford in 1948.
Alden Jewell Flickr

Pickup trucks are the most profitable and popular vehicle in the United States, keeping hundreds of thousands of American farmers, ranchers, and small companies in business.

And Ford's F-150 is the king of all the pickup trucks. It's been the best-selling vehicle of any kind for decades.

On Friday evening, the last 2014 model year F-150 pickup truck rolls off the assembly line at the Dearborn Truck Plant.

Then the work begins to prepare the plant to build the next version – a groundbreaking truck with a mostly aluminum body. 

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Auto
2:54 pm
Tue August 5, 2014

Dream Cruise, move over. The Swedes do classic car love-fests better.

A 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air
Credit Wikimedia

With the venerable Woodward Dream Cruise just days away, thousands of metro Detroiters are pulling the

covers off the precious classic American car in the garage, and buffing her to a shine.

Few of us know that Swedes share the same love affair.

A few weeks ago, Vegas Tenold attended the 30th annual "Power Big Meet" in Vasteras, Sweden.  He writes for the New York Times:

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Auto
5:04 pm
Fri August 1, 2014

New penalties proposed for delaying car recalls

GM is recalling more than 28 million vehicles in the U.S., including 2.6 million Cobalts, HHRs, Saturns and other small cars with a faulty ignition switch
Credit GM

Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill has introduced bills that could subject auto companies and auto executives to tough new penalties for delaying a recall.

McCaskill, a Democrat, has been leading an investigation into GM's ignition switch recall scandal.  The company admits it delayed a recall of 2.6 million small cars for ten years - and at least 13 people died as a result.

McCaskill's Motor Vehicle and Highway Safety Enhancement Act of 2014 would:

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Stateside
9:16 pm
Wed July 30, 2014

Auto business is booming, but report warns of next industry downfall

Auto sales are booming, but don't expect this to be a continuous growth period.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

When the economy in Michigan is hurting, you always hear politicians talking about diversifying the economy.

But when the auto industry is doing better and the economy in Michigan is riding along with it, that talk seems to disappear.

Well, not this time. Rick Haglund recently wrote about a report that indicates the auto industry might be hitting the brakes.

Haglund joined us today. He’s a freelance journalist and contributor to Bridge Magazine, MLive and others. Michigan Radio's auto reporter, Tracy Samilton, also joined us on the show.

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Auto
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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