Archive for December, 2009

United Airlines Breaks Guitars

Yet another reason, as if we needed more, why cars are better.

by on Dec.31, 2009

There is a large disparity between airline advertising claims and actual performance.

As we bid 2009 fare thee well, a clever music video, , takes on United Airlines. It seems that a musician named Dave Carroll had his guitar damaged during a United flight that passed through O’Hare  airport.

United Airline’s response was apparently inept and callous at best, which is often the case when has dealings with airlines. You could say United’s  response was out of tune with the times.

Ah,  the web is now the great equalizer, as too many corporations — especially automakers and airlines — have yet to realize in their old style customer handling practices, based on the e-mails gets.

In Tune!

Dave’s video has since received millions upon millions of  hits, and United Airlines after more than a year of  blowing Dave off is belatedly trying to make amends.

Happy New Year to all from the May all your safe landings equal the number of takeoffs.

2010 BMW Electric ActiveE Concept

Set for a North American International Auto Show debut.

by on Dec.31, 2009

A claimed 100 mile range to empty.

Conventional wisdom suggests that luxury automakers will have an especially tough time meeting ever-stricter emissions and fuel economy regulations.  BMW has made a history of bucking conventional wisdom, and if the ActiveE concept is any indication, it hopes to do that again.

Set to debut at the North American International Auto Show, in Detroit, this coming month, the  all-electric concept is based on the 1-Series Coupe that also will also take its bows at the Detroit Auto Show.   Following the strategy of the battery-powered Mini E, the ActiveE is the second model in Project-i, which was meant to explore the possibilities for bringing a zero-emissions vehicle to market before 2015.


Where the Mini E is a front-wheel-drive two-seater — the batteries occupying the place where conventional rear seats would go — the electric BMW offers space for four adults and even has a 7 cubic foot. truck, barely big enough for two golf bags. With a weight reduction similar to that of the standard Coupe, the EV should not only achieve emissions-free driving (if you neglect how the electricity is generated), but, the maker claims, deliver the sort of driver-oriented road manners BMW aficionados worship.  (more…)

U.S. Takes Controlling Interest of GMAC

Latest U.S. taxpayer bailout costs another $3.8 billion.

by on Dec.30, 2009

GMAC was unable to raise the capital needed from the still ailing private markets, so our Treasury became the lender of last resort.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced this afternoon that it is providing an additional $3.8 billion in capital from taxpayers to GMAC to keep it solvent.

Treasury under its financial health check assessment, the so-called  Supervisory Capital Assessment Program (SCAP), said last May that additional capital of $5.6 billion would be needed for tottering GMAC, which was suffering from bad loans and collapsed residual values for leases of General Motors vehicles, as well as failed loans in the collapsed real estate markets.

GMAC now has the capital buffer required under SCAP, which is needed to meet the worse-than-expected economic scenario after the economic stimulus program proved ineffective at turning the economy around. The $3.79 billion cash infusion was less than the $5.6 billion originally anticipated by the Federal Reserve due in large part to lower-than-expected losses from the General Motors bankruptcy filing.


In November, GMAC announced that its head had departed and a new CEO, Michael A. Carpenter, was coming in from the financial services industry and taxpayer subsidized Citigroup. The appointment of Carpenter, with disputed accounts of whether the previous CEO, Alvaro de Molina, was fired or had resigned, raised questions about the reckless practices of Wall Street, which is responsible for the ongoing Great Recession and the collapse of the global banking system.


Order on Distracted Driving Effective Today

Government-wide Presidential directive restricts more than four million federal employees from texting while driving.

by on Dec.30, 2009

Like the TSA, symbolic but largely ineffective actions dealing with a deadly problem?

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today marked the effective date of President Obama’s Executive Order on distracted driving, which prohibits more than four million federal employees from texting behind the wheel while working or while using government vehicles and communications devices.

While this remains a small, largely symbolic step in addressing a deadly and growing problem, federal safety regulators under LaHood’s management continue to delay meaningful action on regulations that would ban the use of any electronic devices while driving or operating any type of vehicle or airplane. Powerful economic interests, including electronic device and cell phone makers and service providers, as well as automakers and software companies such as Microsoft oppose such regulation.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research shows that nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, and more than half a million were injured. On any given day in 2008, more than 800,000 vehicles were driven by someone using a hand-held cell phone.


“Every time we climb into the driver’s seat, we all have a responsibility for keeping our roads safe by putting away cell phones and other distractions,” said Secretary LaHood. “I am proud that the federal government is leading by example, and encourage others to think about how they can set a safety example in their communities whether it’s through employee policies, safety awareness campaigns, or just making sure your teen driver knows the risks.”


Hyundai Extends Assurance Plan

Expanded protection includes warranty, vehicle return and roadside assistance.

by on Dec.30, 2009

The 2011 Hyundai Sonata debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show earlier this month.

Hyundai Motor America is extending its “Assurance” marketing program into 2010, continuing the vehicle return option for another year. Assurance allows Hyundai customers to return a new vehicle if they unexpectedly lose their income, which is less than a remote possibility as the great Recession drags on and unemployment keeps growing.

Consumers can walk away from a financing obligation when “certain adverse life events” occur, such as involuntary unemployment, providing protection from financial shortfalls that arise from vehicle depreciation (negative equity) up to $7,500.

Assurance, arguably, was in the forefront of a trend when it was announced in early 2009. Similar customer guarantees from airlines, retailers, as well as Ford, and General Motors were offered as recession marketing took hold.


Hyundai sales have increased 6.2% through November, in part due to the strength of Hyundai Assurance, according to the Korean company.


A Happy Turn for a Saab Story?

GM reportedly extending deadline for potential Saab buyer.

by on Dec.30, 2009

The fate of an all-new version of the Saab 9-5 sedan will depend on whether Spyker can raise the money to purchase the brand from GM.

The troubled Swedish automaker, Saab, has been given an 11th-hour reprieve, though it’s far from certain the brand has been saved.

Numerous reports out of Europe – supported by American sources – indicate that General Motors has agreed to extend its self-imposed December 30th deadline for shuttering Saab, one of four brands it said it would either sell or close after emerging from bankruptcy protection last July.

The initial funding plan for Spyker’s acquisition of Saab has fallen through, but the Netherlands-based company is reportedly seeking another line of financing; and GM is giving the carmaker time to pull that together.


“The December deadline has been lifted and the final offer from Victor Muller [chief executive of Spyker] must be made by 7 January now,” a spokesman for GM of Europe told the British newspaper, The Guardian, which added that raising the necessary cash appears to be Spyker’s only obstacle, at this point. (more…)

The Top Ten Auto Stories of 2009

Bankruptcies, bailouts, recalls, oh what a bad year it was!

by on Dec.30, 2009

Brother, can you spare a dime? The jet-setting Detroit Three at hearings: left, fired GM CEO Rick Wagoner, ex Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli, middle, Ford's surviving CEO Alan Mulally, right.

Every December, a group of auto scribes gathers together to share some good cheer and see how we did at predicting the events of the unfolding year. To be honest, even the best of the group failed to come close to calling the big stories of 2009.

No surprise, really, when you consider the strange twists and turns the auto industry has taken during the last 12 months.  Even the best fiction writers would have had trouble scripting this plot.

Sure, there were signs that the auto industry was slumping, and that the Detroit’s Three were in trouble, but having both General Motors and Chrysler go bankrupt?  And the U.S. government become majority owner of GM, with Italian automaker Fiat controlling Chrysler?  And what about Toyota?  Twelve months ago, most of us were writing about the fact that the giant Japanese automaker seemed certain to become the world’s largest automaker, finally overtaking troubled GM.  So, who could have begun to suspect all the problems that would follow for Toyota in 2009?  And what about the unexpected rise of the Chinese?

Top Ten!

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The fact is, there were so many big stories in 2009 it may be impossible to come up with a fair, accurate and complete list of the 10 Top Auto Stories that everyone will agree on.  But I’ll try.

And would like to encourage readers to come up with the stories they would add to the list.  Just go to the Comments section at the end of this story.


Toyota Wins on Crucial Rollover Issues

Dallas attorney withdraws suit to reopen Toyota accident cases.

by on Dec.30, 2009

Rollover suits remain an ongoing Toyota image issue.

Dallas product liability attorney Todd Tracy has withdrawn a lawsuit to reopen 17 Toyota accident cases. Tracy did so after reviewing documents provided by a former lawyer for Toyota alleging that the automaker hid  evidence in the cases.

Tracy’s review did not find any evidence to confirm the claims made by ex-Toyota lawyer Dimitrios Biller, who has a troubling history of suing former employers.

Tracy’s move last fall was only one of several by plaintiffs’ attorneys attempting to capitalize on the Biller matter, a case where the former Toyota employee accused Toyota of concealing evidence about rollover accidents.

Toyota Motor Sales vehemently denies the charges.

Moreover, Tracy’s withdrawal of the fraud accusations is only the latest — and we predict by no means the last setback — for Biller as his case drags through the courts. A California Superior Court ruling in September  in connection with this ongoing  litigation described Biller’s conduct as motivated by “personal financial gain.”


The Court also said that in its opinion “Mr. Biller has violated the rules of professional conduct and the business and professions code and has done so intentionally.”

As reported at the time, Dimitrios Biller, the former National Managing Counsel in charge of Toyota’s National Rollover Program, worked as a lawyer for TMS from 2003 to 2007. He has a prior history of suing employers, including the prosecutor’s office in California.  (more…)

Recalls: 2010 Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain

A Mexican made computer module causes the a/c, heating and defrost controls, as well as the panel lights to fail.

by on Dec.30, 2009

It suddenly can become dark and cold, not unlike Michigan.

General Motors Company is recalling more than 59,000 Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain vehicles for a software glitch that can cause the heating, air conditioning, defrost, and radio controls, as well as the panel lights to fail.

Dealers will replace the Mexican-made computer module in the center instrument panel free of charge. The safety recall is expected to begin during January 2010.

Owners may Chevrolet at 1-800-630-2438, GMC at 1-866-996-9463 or at


GM safety recall number 090298. Owners may also the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 or go to . NHTSA campaign number 09V489.

GM Offering Big Incentives on Pontiacs and Saturns

Dealer discounts of up to $7,000 per vehicle are aimed at clearing out the lots as brands prepare to close.

by on Dec.29, 2009

GM is offering dealers up to $7,000 to clear out inventories of Pontiac and Saturn models.

Big sales are typical in the days after Christmas, especially if you’re looking for holiday cards, wrapping paper and ornaments.  But General Motors is offering some big deals of its own on two of the brands it will soon abandon, and they make the sales at the local discount malls seem paltry by comparison.

At Jim Causley Buick-Pontiac-GMC, in the Detroit suburb, shoppers are being offered $6,500 discounts on models such as the Pontiac G3 and Solstice roadster, “and they’re going fast,” says salesman Mike Smith before rushing off to deal with a line of waiting customers.


That’s a sharp turnaround from earlier in the month when Causley’s showroom was uncomfortably quiet, particularly for the Pontiac brand, one of four marques GM decided to abandon – along with Saturn, Saab and Hummer – as part of its bankruptcy reorganization.  Worried about being able to service or sell vehicles sold by those brands down the road, many potential customers were steering clear.    (more…)