auto

Auto/Economy
12:10 pm
Thu April 12, 2012

Government proposes throttle override system in cars

The government wants make brake-throttle override systems more common in vehicles.
Chrystal Foxx wikimedia commons

WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal regulators are proposing cars be required to have throttle override systems to prevent runaway acceleration in instances where the driver steps on the gas pedal and brake at the same time.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday that it's proposing changing safety standards to require brake-throttle override systems in all vehicle models regardless of size, including trucks and buses. The systems automatically brake while overriding the accelerator when both are pressed.

Many car models already come equipped with such systems.

The proposal is an outgrowth of investigations two years ago into claims that mechanical defects had caused unintended acceleration in some Toyota models. Government studies rejected those claims, but the probe uncovered several cases of drivers inadvertently pressing the brake and gas pedal at the same time.

Changing Gears
10:33 am
Wed April 4, 2012

Measuring the costs and benefits of retraining

Todd Debenedet is starting over. He's retraining in Jackson, Michigan.
Kate Davidson Changing Gears

Measuring the success of retraining programs used to be straightforward. You just looked at how many people got better paying jobs. Now the emphasis is shifting from how job seekers benefit to how taxpayers benefit too. That’s because some federal funds for workforce development are shrinking, and local agencies have to do more to make their case.

In the Midwest, we hear a lot about retraining. A lot of the money for retraining and other job services comes from the federal government, through the states, to local programs like this one in Jackson, Michigan.

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News Roundup
8:29 am
Wed April 4, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

user brother_o'mara Flickr

With EM decision fast approaching, Detroit City Council will meet again tonight

Instead of voting on a proposed financial stability agreement with the state, Detroit City Council members spent much of Tuesday discussing several court challenges that could derail any agreement. They eventually adjourned without a vote on the agreement despite warnings that tabling a vote could lead to an emergency manager appointment by Gov. Snyder. Snyder's deadline to decide on an EM appointment is tomorrow. Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek was at the meeting and reports council plans to meet again tonight.

Last night, Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis, who has been filling in for Mayor Bing while out on medical leave, issued this statement regarding council's discussions:

We appreciate the seriousness with which the Detroit City Council is deliberating. This is one of the most critical decisions in this City’s history. However, Mayor Bing and the administration believe Gov. Snyder will act on Thursday, April 5, according to law, regardless of any related, current legal challenges to the process.

Auto sales on pace for a strong year

It's early yet, but auto sales figures in the U.S. show automakers are on pace to make 2012 the best sales year since 2007. More from the Detroit Free Press:

New-vehicle sales ran at a 14.4 million annual rate in March, down from a four-year-high of 15.1 million in February. Still, at the pace so far, Americans would buy 14.5 million vehicles this year, up from 12.8 million in 2011. The increase equals more than six assembly plants running two shifts each.

Chrysler led all automakers in sales gains for the month of March at 34.2 percent.

Michigan's unemployment rate drops across areas of state 

Michigan's unemployment rate dropped to 8.8% last month with a slight uptick in overall employment as well.

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reported new data shows the decline occurred throughout the state:

Fifteen of 17 regions of Michigan recorded declines in unemployment in February, with Detroit and Monroe reporting the largest rate decreases from January to February. Flint, Holland and Jackson recorded the largest declines during the past year.

Auto/Economy
12:32 pm
Tue April 3, 2012

More jobs than job seekers, automakers seek qualified people

An electric vehicle engineer at Ford.
Ford Motor Co.

After laying-off tens of thousands of employees in 2009, automakers and engineering firms are racing to fill new positions.

Paul Eisenstein writes on The Detroit Bureau that at a recent career fair, job openings weren't in short supply - job seekers were.

Or more precisely, qualified job-seekers.

Eisenstein writes "the real rush is to find trained engineers."

two years ago, Altair Engineering...“had plenty of applications and no jobs.”  A few months ago, they put out the word that “they had 700 engineering slots and no one to fill them.”

This explanation is offered as to why there's a dearth of applicants.

Part of the problem is that the industry now needs to attract a largely new workforce at a time when engineering schools are struggling to fill slots and turn out fresh talent.

The bulk of the engineering employees released by the struggling Detroit makers over the last five years were older workers nearing the end of their careers.  They were often given buyouts that helped nudge them into a less painful retirement.  “And now...they just aren’t interested in coming back.”

And even if older engineers did apply for these jobs, one expert says their skill set might be out of date because changes in technology are happening so quickly.

This shortage of engineering talent is driving up costs for employers - bad for employers, but good for potential employees.

One group is working to change this. David Cole of the Center for Automotive Research has started "Building American's Tomorrow," a non-profit group working to attract young people to the engineering field.

Bryce Hoffman of the Detroit News writes the group is working to improve the image of engineering to young people who "have a dim view of manufacturing and the auto industry in particular."

Building America's Tomorrow grew out of the industry's efforts during the recent economic crisis to educate Washington about the economic importance of the auto sector.

"It's really an outgrowth of all the chaos in the auto industry," said David Cole, chairman emeritus of CAR and one of the founders of the organization. "Everyone was worried about whether we would survive. We did, but now we're not sure where we're going find the talent we need to stay in business."

It's a long term problem. And Cole says "if we don't do something about it, we're going to lose a core part of our economy."

Auto/Economy
10:31 am
Mon March 26, 2012

Michigan battery maker to spend $55 million replacing defective parts

A123 Systems Inc.'s battery manufacutring facility in Livonia, Michigan.
A123 Systems Inc. Facebook

A123 Systems Inc. has announced it will replace battery modules and packs that could contain defective parts made at the company's Livonia manufacturing facility.

In a press release, the company said they began making replacement modules and packs and expect to ship them to affected customers this week.

The company said the defective parts are not a safety concern.

From their press release:

"Recently, A123 has discovered that some prismatic cells made in our Livonia facility may contain a defect which can result in premature failure of a battery pack or module that includes a defective cell. We have isolated the root cause of the defective cells and we are confident that we have pinpointed the source of the defect and corrected it..." said David Vieau, CEO of A123 Systems. 

MLive.com reports:

A123 most recently made headlines for its nearly $260 million loss in 2011 and a Fisker Karma, which the company supplies the battery for, dying during testing by Consumer Reports.

Company officials say prismatic cells made at another A123 facility are not impacted, and "the cylindrical cells we make at our facilities in China for a number of other transportation programs, as well as the majority of our grid energy storage systems and commercial applications, are also not affected by this defect."

Auto
10:47 am
Mon March 12, 2012

Feds investigate Ford Tauruses for stuck throttles

2005 Ford Taurus wikimedia commons

Update: March 13, 2:35pm

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has expanded its investigation to include some Murcury Sable models in addition to Tauruses.

The investigation now includes vehicles from the 2001-2006 model years and could affect as many as 1.9 million cars.

--------

DETROIT (AP) - Federal safety regulators are investigating complaints of throttles sticking in some Ford Tauruses.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on its website that 14 people have complained about the cars from the 2005 and 2006 model years, about 360,000 in all. No crashes or injuries have been reported, but the agency says a driver ran a red light and entered an intersection before the car could be stopped.

The agency says the cruise control cable may become detached and hold the throttle open. Drivers have reported that it was hard to stop the car with the brakes, and several said they had to shut off the engine or shift into neutral to stop.

Ford says it is cooperating in the probe. The cars have not been recalled.

Auto
10:10 am
Tue March 6, 2012

Ford upgrades oft-criticized MyFord Touch

Ford Motor Company

Ford is giving its touch-screen system, called MyFord Touch, a big upgrade.   The modifications will also be made to Lincoln vehicles.

The changes will be free to customers who already have the system in their cars.  Dealers will also upgrade new cars on their lots.

MyFord Touch uses a computer touchscreen to control things like the radio, IPod, cellphone, and navigation. 

Ford acknowledges the touchscreen had problems; it shut down unexpectedly, it took too long to respond to the customer’s touch, and there was too much information on the screen.  

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Auto/Economy
12:55 pm
Fri March 2, 2012

Plans call for demolishing Detroit's Packard plant

The Packard Plant in Detroit.
Angelique DuLong wikimedia commons

DETROIT (AP) - A man who claims ownership of one of Detroit's most widely-known industrial ruins says he plans to demolish most or all of what remains of the sprawling facility.

The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News report Friday that Dominic Cristini, who claims ownership of the Packard plant through Bioresource Inc., is awaiting demolition permits. He says he wants to start demolition within a month. He estimates it will cost $6 million to raze the plant.

Cristini says portions might be saved for historical value.

The plant was built in the early 1900s. The last Packard automobile was built in the mid-1950s. Other smaller industrial businesses have used the facility since. As the years passed, the plant increasingly became the target of thieves, metal scrappers, urban explorers and graffiti artists.

Changing Gears
12:01 pm
Mon February 27, 2012

Michigan Primary raises a big question: Who gets credit for the bailout?

Chrysler's Windsor Assembly Plant.
Chrysler

Publicus Tacitus, the Roman senator, is given credit for coining the phrase, “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.”

He’d feel right at home during the Michigan Republican primary campaign.

Over the past few weeks, candidates, their opponents and those who played a role have been debating just who should get credit for the auto industry bailout.

It’s a long-overdue discussion of what happened a little over three years ago, and the conversation shows just what a political hot button the situation still is for people in Michigan and the Midwest. Here’s a list of credit takers and how they make their cases.

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Changing Gears
10:21 am
Tue February 14, 2012

3 things to know about Mitt Romney’s latest Op-Ed

Mitt Romney is working to clarify his position on the auto bailouts.
Matthew Reichbach Flickr

Yesterday, we told you that Michigan’s native son, Mitt Romney, has fallen behind former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in two pre-primary polls.

Now, Romney is firing back in the Detroit News. not at his rival, but at union leaders and Obama administration officials.

Romney touches on many themes about the 2009 auto industry bailout.

You can read the entire op-ed here.

We picked out three things and provide some context.

Read more
Auto/Economy
10:41 am
Thu February 2, 2012

Chrysler factory workers to get $1,500 checks

The AP reports that Chrysler workers will get bonus check next month, another sign that the once troubled automaker is turning around.
screen grab from YouTube video

DETROIT (AP) - Factory workers at Chrysler are getting $1,500 profit-sharing checks next month, a sign the automaker's turnaround is succeeding.

About 26,000 union-represented workers in the U.S. should get the payments, according to Chrysler's contract with the United Auto Workers union. The profit-sharing figure is based on an Associated Press analysis of company earnings, and the labor contract formula for profit-sharing.

Chrysler would not say how much the workers will get. But the formula in its new four-year contract with the UAW shows that the checks will be about $1,500. The checks are based on Chrysler's $2 billion operating profit for 2011, reported on Wednesday.

Chrysler reported full-year net income of $183 million, its first since 1997.

Auto/Economy
10:00 am
Mon January 30, 2012

Government steps up Jeep Liberty air bag probe

DETROIT (AP) - Federal safety regulators have stepped up their investigation into Jeep Liberty air bags after 50 people reported they were hurt when the air bags inflated without a crash happening.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration started investigating Liberty SUVs from the 2002 and 2003 model years in September. It was upgraded to a full engineering analysis last week.

Documents on the agency website say Chrysler and regulators have gotten 87 complaints of air bags going off by surprise. Nearly 387,000 vehicles are under investigation.

Drivers reported burns, cuts and bruises.

Safety regulators say the air bag computer may fail due to an electrical voltage spike.

The company says no incidents have happened in vehicles made after March 19, 2003. But regulators say Chrysler can't explain that.

Changing Gears
11:53 am
Fri January 27, 2012

6 tips on "Buy Here-Pay Here" car lots

SeeMidTN.com Flickr

Yesterday, we brought you the story of Buy Here-Pay Here dealerships in the Midwest. These are places where the dealer finances car loans himself (BHPH is sometimes called in-house financing.).

Basically, he is the bank and he takes on all the risk. That’s especially true because BHPH dealers cater to people with bad credit – deep subprime customers who typically have credit scores less than 550.

It’s not hard to find people who are out of luck, out of work, and grateful for the opportunity to finance a car at all. But that opportunity comes at a steep price, which is either folded in or added on in the form of interest rates up to 25 percent.

So here are six tips to consider if you’re thinking about Buy Here-Pay Here:

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Politics
2:25 pm
Thu January 26, 2012

Michigan drivers could soon pay more for gas and vehicle registration fees

Drivers in Michigan may soon pay nine cents more per gallon at the gas pump.

A package of bills that would change funding for the state’s aging bridges and roads has been rolled out at the state Capitol.

It would get rid of the fuel-tax at the pump in favor of a tax at the wholesale level. That would result in drivers paying a few cents more per gallon. 

Drivers might also have pay more to register their vehicles. The package of bills also includes a plan to increase vehicle registration fees by 67 percent.

That should generate about $500 million dollars for transportation.

State Representative Rick Olson (R-Saline) said generating money to maintain roads is similar to a driver changing the oil in a car.

"Why do you do that? Because you want to save your engine," said Olson. "Same thing with roads; unless we do some of this capital preventative maintenance on a timely basis, we’re going to have more and more roads fall into the ‘poor’ category when then it costs 6 to 8 times as much to repair."

There are no plans to turn any of the state’s major highways into toll roads. But Olson said the conversation could come up in the future.

"Oh, it’s a possibility, but I don’t hear anyone pushing that at this point. Toll roads, tolls are a relatively inefficient way to collect funds for roads," said Olson. "Does create jobs, but those are government jobs, so why not then create the net revenue the most efficient way we can."

The package of bills also includes a plan to create a regional transit authority in southeast Michigan. 

Governor Rick Snyder called on lawmakers to find about $1.5 billion in additional revenue to adequately fund transportation needs.

Changing Gears
11:25 am
Thu January 26, 2012

Buy Here-Pay Here: Get a ride, don’t be taken for one

Matt Ghazal runs a Buy Here-Pay Here business in West Michigan. He's trying to change the sector's reputation.
Kate Davidson Changing Gears

 

In the Midwest, it’s hard to get around without a car.

These days, people are holding onto them longer. The average vehicle is almost 11 years old and used cars prices are on the rise.

All this adds to the pressure on the bottom rung of consumers: people with bad credit.

For many, the only way to finance a car is at a Buy Here-Pay Here lot.  Here, dealers loan to deep subprime customers at interest rates up to 25%. Buy Here-Pay Here makes up more than 15% of used vehicle financing in states like Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. 

That financing goes to people like Willie.  That’s her nickname.

We’re driving around Toledo in her ’99 Chevy Express.  It’s got 130,000 miles on it.

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Auto/Economy
11:37 am
Mon January 23, 2012

Detroit auto show closes, attendance highest since 2005

The unveiling of the new Dodge Dart at the Detroit auto show.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

The Detroit auto show wrapped up yesterday, and officials say attendance was strong.

From the Associated Press:

Organizers of the North American International Auto Show say this year's attendance was the highest since 2005.

The annual event at Detroit's Cobo Center closed on Sunday.

Organizers say attendance during the public portion of the show was 770,932. That's also up from last year, when 735,370 went to the
show.

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Auto/Economy
3:15 pm
Thu January 19, 2012

GM retakes "top selling automaker" crown... sort of

General Motors claims "top automaker" crown.
user paul (dex) Flickr

For those of you keeping score at home, it's GM 9,030,000 to Toyota's 7,900,000 for 2011.

Those are "around" numbers for the number of vehicles sold in 2011 by the automakers from the Associated Press.

GM has retaken a crown it owned for 77 years before Toyota snatched it away in 2008.

Since that time, Volkswagen has been an up and comer as well. That company is the no. 2 automaker. It sold around 8,160,000 vehicles last year.

But some argue there's some fuzzy math going on to make GM the "top automaker" in the world.

More from the Associated Press:

Some analysts have said that VW is the world's biggest automaker because GM's figures include vehicles made by its Wuling joint venture in China. Many don't count Wuling because GM doesn't have controlling interest in the company, but GM includes it in global sales figures.

Excluding Wuling, GM would have been topped by Volkswagen.

Being the world's top-selling automaker doesn't mean much for the bottom line. But GM retaking the title is an example of how far the company has come since its 2009 bankruptcy.

Bloomberg Business Week's Tim Higgins quotes one analyst saying the top automaker crown means "bragging rights" and might help with stock prices.

Higgins writes GM's stock did go up with the news, but the stock would have to go up significantly before the U.S. government would break even on its investment:

GM rose 0.5 percent to $24.63 at 11:26 a.m. New York time.

The U.S. government still owns almost a third of GM. The government would have to sell its stake at an average of $53 a share to break even. GM earned $6.17 billion in 2010 and $8.47 billion in the first nine months of last year.

Auto/Economy
11:59 am
Thu January 19, 2012

Ford salaried workers to get raises, bonuses

Marcus Wong creative commons

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) - Ford is giving pay raises and bonuses to about 20,000 white-collar workers, mainly in the U.S. and Canada.

Letters sent to workers last week say they'll get 2.7 percent raises on April 1. They'll also get bonuses based on performance.

The raises are a sign that Ford is confident in its turnaround and in the U.S. economy. Ford Motor Co. made $6.6 billion in the first three quarters of last year. It reports fourth-quarter earnings this month. The company's U.S. sales rose 11 percent last year.

Spokeswoman Marcey Evans says the raises are needed to keep pay competitive with other Fortune 100 companies.

Salaried workers last got raises in 2010. Only performance bonuses were given in 2011.

Ford has made a huge turnaround since 2006, when it lost $12.6 billion.

Auto/Economy
5:27 pm
Tue January 17, 2012

Boring, but important: Fuel economy standards getting tougher

Ford is upping it's fuel economy numbers with its "C-Max" cars.
Ford Motor Company

New, more stringent fuel economy standards are the topic of conversation in Detroit today at the first public hearing for the proposed 2017 to 2025 model year CAFE standards (Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards).

Today's meeting in Detroit is the first of three meetings. The others will take place in Philadelphia and San Francisco.

So far, the remarkable news for a proposed standard that calls for fleet-wide average fuel economy of 54.5 mpg by 2025 is the lack of any formidable opposition.

Read more
Auto/Economy
10:52 am
Tue January 17, 2012

People holding onto their clunkers, average age reaches a record 10.8 years

Reaching waaay back. This Pinto takes holding on to an old car to a whole new level.
Brian Teutsch Flickr

O.k. - just because it's old doesn't mean it's a clunker.

There still could be plenty of good miles left on that engine.

A Southfield-based auto research firm says Americans are holding onto their cars and trucks for a longer period of time.

The average age has reached a record 10.8 years, according to Polk.

From the Associated Press:

The Polk research firm said Tuesday that the average age of a car last July was 11.1 years, while the truck average was 10.4.

Unemployment and the sour economy have caused people to put off buying cars and trucks.

Polk says the average vehicle age has been rising since 2008. But the firm says a sales rebound last year is likely to slow the aging rate.

Car companies sold 12.8 million vehicles in the U.S. last year, up from 11.6 million in 2010.

In 2010 the average vehicle on U.S. roads was 10.6 years old, up from 10 years in 2008.

The numbers for the Polk analysis come from national auto registration data.

The group estimates that as of July 2011, there were 240,504,646 cars and trucks on the road - down from a record of 242,081,704 cars and trucks on the road in July 2008.

The average age of vehicles on the road has climbed steadily in just about every year since 1995, when the average age was 8.4 years.

In its press release, Polk said the vehicle market is changing:

Polk expects this trend may change in the coming years as CUV and small SUV populations in the U.S. market have risen in 2010 and 2011 due to their continued success in the market. Additionally, the rebound in new vehicle sales in 2011 and for the next couple of years will most likely slow down the aging rate seen in the market over the past three years, according to Polk.

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