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The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety will probably be handing out a lot fewer of its coveted "Top Safety Pick" awards in 2014.

Not because cars will suddenly be less safe - but because of a new test the agency is requiring.  

The Insurance Institute will soon add a test for a so-called "small overlap" crash.

Dodge

Dodge will withdraw from NASCAR competition at the conclusion of the 2012 season - this after its partner Penske Racing announced earlier this year that it had decided to switch to Ford Motor Company in 2013.

Chrysler's Ralph Gilles said the company "couldn't make the pieces of the puzzle fit together" in trying to find a new racing team that would maintain the level of competition Dodge wanted to maintain.

He didn't rule out re-entering NASCAR competition at a later time.

Dutch car company Spyker is suing General Motors for three billion dollars over the bankruptcy of GM's former brand, Saab.

Spyker says GM illegally interfered with a sale of part of Saab, and claims it was that interference which caused Saab's bankruptcy. 

GM sold Saab to Spyker in 2010, with a stipulation that Spyker would have to obtain GM's permission to sell Saab to anyone else.

Spyker almost immediately ran into financial problems trying to keep Saab afloat.  

user: Matthias93 / Wikimedia Commons

Ford Motor Company is hiring 225 workers to run a new hybrid-electric transmission assembly line at the Sterling Heights plant.

The Associated Press reports Ford is investing $220 million in the Van Dyke Transmission plant to make the new transmission.

Ford used to purchase its hybrid transmissions from Japan, but the Van Dyke plant's new assembly line will construct Ford's first domestically designed and produced hybrid transmission.

Hybrid versions of the C-Max, Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ midsize sedans will sport the new transmission beginning this fall, as well as the plug-in hybrid versions of the Fusion and the soon-to-be-released C-Max.

In a press release, the company says the plant already added 130 jobs as part of the launch, and the remaining employees will start work by the end of the month.

Ford says the plant is now the only producer of front-wheel-drive hybrid transmissions in North America, though General Motors Co. makes rear-wheel-drive hybrid transmissions in Maryland, the AP reports.

-Elaine Ezekiel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

General Motors / GM

GM's second quarter profit dropped from a year ago. The company made $1.5 billion, down from $2.5 billion, largely due to losses in Europe.  

The company also took an unusual step related to damage control, after a high-profile firing at the company on Sunday.

GM departed from the industry norm and only allowed analysts, not media, to ask questions during its earnings conference call.

Toyota publicity still

Toyota is recalling 778,000 RAV4 SUVs and Lexus HS 250h sedans to fix a suspension problem that could cause crashes.

The company says if rear suspension nuts aren't tightened properly after a wheel alignment, the arms can rust and separate from the vehicle. Toyota reported nine crashes and three minor injuries from the problem.

RAV4s covered by the recall are from the 2006 to 2011 model years. The Lexus sedans are from 2010 only.

Toyota says it's developing a plan to fix the problem. It will notify owners by mail when it's time to take the vehicles into dealers for a free repair.

In the meantime, the company is telling drivers to contact their dealers if they hear an abnormal sound in the rear of the vehicle.

Hyundai publicity still

Hyundai Motor Co. is recalling some Santa Fe SUVs and Sonata sedans because of problems with their air bags.

The Santa Fe recall involves nearly 200,000 vehicles in the 2007 to 2009 model years. Hyundai dealers will reprogram the front passenger air bag sensors so they will accurately detect when a small adult is seated.

Hyundai said it has received complaints from some adults under 130 pounds (60 kilograms) whose air bags didn't deploy. No injuries have been reported. The air bags were originally programmed not to go off to protect children.

The company is also recalling 22,500 Sonata sedans from the 2012 and 2013 model years because their side air bags could go off without warning.

Hyundai says it has received 16 complaints about the Sonata's air bags, but no injuries have been reported.

Michigan Radio

Chrysler continues to mend.

The company's revenues increased 23 percent in the second quarter of 2012.

The company said its net income rose from $181 million to $436 million.

Last year, Chrysler's profit took a hit because the company had to pay a $551 million dollar charge to pay off its government loans early.

The good Chrysler news is expected to be followed on Tuesday by much worse news from the company's majority owner, Fiat.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

General Motors’ big hope to grab a share of the luxury compact segment rolled off the assembly line in Lansing today.  Tomorrow, the Cadillac ATS rolls on to the world stage.

2001-2004 Ford Escape
Wikimedia Commons

Ford is recalling nearly 485,000 Escapes and Mavericks to fix sticking gas pedals that can cause crashes.

The worldwide recall affects the 2001 through 2004 model years that are powered by 3-liter V-6 engines with cruise control. It comes just over a week after U.S. safety regulators began investigating the Escape small SUV.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received 68 complaints about the problem, including 13 crashes, nine injuries and one death. A teenage girl died in the January crash of an Escape in Arizona.

Ford says the cruise control cables can snag on the plastic cover atop the engine and cause the gas pedals to stick. Dealers will replace the engine cover fasteners and raise the covers to make more room.

Ford Motor Co. intends to prove that good things come in small packages — really small packages. The company has taken engine downsizing to a new level with its new three-cylinder EcoBoost engine, which has been introduced in Europe and is set to hit the U.S. market next year.

The EcoBoost offers more power than many conventional four-cylinder engines, with fuel economy numbers a hybrid could envy. Early fans are calling it a modern "little engine that could," and Ford is betting that American customers are ready to embrace a three-cylinder engine.

GM Renaissance Center in Detroit.
John F. Martin / Creative Commons

Today is the deadline for more than 40,000 General Motors retirees to accept their former employer's offer of a lump sum buyout of their pensions.

Otherwise, their pensions will be taken over by Prudential Insurance.

GM's Randy Arrix said the change is part of the company's efforts to create what it calls a "fortress balance sheet."  Getting underfunded pensions off the books strengthens the balance sheet.

"Pension obligations are very volatile, and they're volatile because they're dependent on some things within our control like contributions, and other things that are not, said Arrix.

Some GM retirees are angry about the change, which they see as a broken promise by GM, but for others, the buyout is an opportunity to control their own money.

user Explorationofspace / Wikimedia Commons

Ford Motor Company issued a media release today, alerting owners of a safety recall on 2013 Escapes with 1.6-liter engines. The release says the model has faulty fuel lines that could leak and cause a fire.

The car maker advises that its affected customers stop driving the cars immediately in order to allow dealerships to pick them up to remedy the problem, which will take about an hour, according to the statement.

More from the advisory:

Onstar

General Motors says its On-Star customers can now use their GM cars to make some extra money - by renting out their vehicles.

Car-sharing allows someone to rent their personal vehicle to people who don't own one. Typically the borrower just needs a car for a few hours, for errands, grocery store visits or the like.

Now, GM car owners who subscribe to Onstar can rent out their cars through a car-sharing company called RelayRides.

Jeep Liberty
Jeep Liberty / Facebook.com

The Detroit Free Press' Brent Snavely reported today that Chrysler plans to close its Mack Avenue Engine II plant in Detroit this September. The company plans to replace the engine built there with a different one made in Chrysler plants in Trenton, Mich. and in Saltillo, Mexico, reports the Detroit News.

Honda / Honda

Governors of 13 states that produce natural gas are asking Detroit car companies to make them a passenger car that runs on the fuel.

Advances in a drilling technique called horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, are making natural gas more plentiful.

The drilling technique has plenty of environmental critics, but Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper says it's safe when done properly, and he says natural gas is a better fuel than gasoline.

General Motors set a global sales record for the first quarter of 2012.

But in the U.S., GM's market share dropped to a record low in the first half of the year -- 18.1 percent, according to Edmunds.com.

Now, GM's Chevrolet brand is offering a program it calls "love it or return it," to try to boost sales.  Chevy is the company's most important brand, accounting for 70 percent of its sales.

The company will let people return their new Chevy vehicles within 30 to 60 days after purchase for any reason.

The program also includes no-haggle pricing.

Edmunds.com analyst Michelle Krebs says it potentially could help GM boost its U.S. market share. GM lost market share, as did Ford, as Honda and Toyota came roaring back in the first half of the year with ample inventories on dealer lots. Both those companies lost market share in 2011 because of the tsunami that struck Japan.

"The other thing is, it's pretty cheap for GM to do this," notes Krebs.  "Because very rarely, when another company or GM has done a program like this, does anybody bring the car back."

Krebs says it's important for GM to get potential customers into its dealerships, because, in her opinion, the company's product lineup is not getting the attention it deserves.

GM says the "love it or return it" program will help show its confidence in its products- and perhaps lure additional customers to Chevy dealerships, many of which have been extensively upgraded.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

The United States has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization against China over tariffs on U.S.-made vehicles.

The Obama administration says China unfairly placed duties of up to 22 percent on U.S.-made vehicles that are exported to China.

The tariffs apply to larger passenger cars and SUVs.

A new study suggests that most new technologies to reduce car crashes are effective.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found claims went down seven percent for vehicles that sound a warning to alert drivers of an imminent crash.

There was a fourteen-percent reduction in claims for cars that automatically apply the brakes to avoid a collision.

The Institute's David Zuby  says that's a significant reduction.

Robust U.S. auto sales have been helping to keep a floor on the U.S. economy for months, and they kept up the good work in June.

Car sales surpassed the expectations of many analysts.   

The good news included Detroit car companies.  Ford sales rose 7% and Chrysler sales jumped 20% compared to June a year ago.

General Motors sales increased nearly 16%.

GM's Kurt McNeil says he expects a good second half of the year, too.

Ford Motor Company is hitting most of its financial targets these days.

The Detroit automaker is profitable; last year it restored dividends to shareholders; and recently, the company's stock climbed back to investment grade.

But Ford will miss one key target in 2012.  The company will lose market share this year, rather than gain it, as company executives predicted last year. 

Market share is a car company's percentage of total car sales.    

U.S. automakers have not caught up to their Asian competitors when it comes to quality  -- but American vehicles are still highly rated. 

A company that measures consumer satisfaction says Lexus drivers reported the fewest problems during the first three months of ownership.

Dave Sargent is a vice president at J.D. Power and Associates. He says Jaguar and Porsche tied for second  and General Motors' Cadillac came in third in the quality survey.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

General Motors is celebrating an environmental milestone. The company says a Lansing autopart distribution center is the automaker’s 100th facility to go “landfill free.”

As car companies struggle to meet growing demand, the third shift is making a comeback. But many factories running on three shifts are doing it differently from in the past. And that new "three crew" shift pattern could make what's normally a hard job even harder.

At Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, employees work 10-hour shifts four days a week. The so-called A crew gets days, while the B crew gets afternoons. But the C crew shift rotates its start time every week. On Fridays and Saturdays, workers start at 6:00 a.m. On Mondays and Tuesdays, they start at 4:30 p.m.

screen grab / WSJ MarketWatch

Update 2:03 p.m.

General Motors CEO Dan Akerson told stockholders at today's annual meeting that "he regrets GM's stock hasn't done well." GM's stock price is hovering around $22 a share.  

That's a big drop from 2010, when GM held an initial public offering and the stock sold at about $33 a share.

"I mean it's great we had a good year last year, why is the stock down? Because there's uncertainty into the future.  The most obvious is, uh, Europe," said Akerson.

Honda is back in the battery electric car business.

The company's Fit EV is rated as having the longest range of any electric vehicle sold in the U.S. so far. 

Federal regulators say the Fit EV can go about 82 miles on a fully charged battery. 

That's six miles more than the electric Focus and nine more than the Nissan Leaf. 

Michigan lithium-ion battery company is hiring again - after slashing its workforce last year.

A-123 says it plans to hire up to 400 people in the next few months.[A-123 has one factory in Romulus and one in Livonia.   The advanced batteries are used in cars, trucks, and buses, as well as large storage units for the electric power grid.

Jobs at the company peaked at about a thousand, but several hundred jobs were cut last year as orders fell.

GM MEDIA

OSHAWA, Ontario (AP) - The Canadian Auto Workers union says General Motors Canada plans to close its consolidated plant in Oshawa, Ontario, by June 2013. Chris Buckley, a local union president, says GM gave the union notice Friday. The closure of the plant that produces the Chevrolet Impala and the Equinox could mean 2,000 layoffs.

GM is scaling back its overall operations in Canada as part of a North American restructuring that began two years ago under bankruptcy court protection. In Canada, GM has already closed a truck plant in Oshawa and a transmission factory in Windsor, Ontario.

Chrysler Media

Toyota reported a sales increase in May of 87% compared to the same month a year ago - when the company's vehicle production had plummeted due to the tsunami hitting Japan in March.  

There were more selling days this month than last May, but it is still a robust recovery from the disaster, which reduced inventories on Toyota dealer lots and sent some customers to other car companies.

Toyota remains number three in overall sales in the U.S., however, just behind Ford, which saw its sales increase 13% in May.

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

A federal judge issued a ruling today telling auto dealers to inform buyers when they have negative information on their credit report, even if the loan is handed off to a bank or finance company.

Car buyers with bad credit histories often have higher interest loan terms.

The National Automobile Dealers Association wanted car dealers exempted from a provision in the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

From the Detroit Free Press:

The FTC concluded that the auto dealers actually use the credit report even if they do not physically obtain it, and so must provide the notice to consumers. NADA sued the FTC, challenging this interpretation. The court agreed with the FTC's position in its ruling.

"This ruling will make it easier for consumers to learn about unfavorable information in their credit reports," said Stuart Delery, acting assistant attorney general for the civil division. "The auto dealer is in the best position to provide this information because the dealer interacts directly with the consumer."

The Freep reports the National Automobile Dealers Association plans to "appeal to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit."

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton recently reported that Chrysler's sales have been buoyed by loans to buyers with less-than-stellar credit histories:

Chrysler's new car sales have been improving faster than almost any other car company in the U.S. in recent months. But the company has also been relying on subprime borrowers more than almost any other car company. That's according to Edmunds.com.

 

Samilton reports that the loans are riskier, but people still tend to pay them:

People are much more likely to default on a subprime house loan than a subprime car loan.

One analyst said the bigger risk for auto manufacturers is that more subprime loans might tarnish a brand's image.

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