Archive for May, 2014

Ford Shaking Up Design Ops Again

Joel Piaskowski new European chief as Martin Smith sets retirement.

by on May.30, 2014

Joel Piaskowski is the new head of design for Ford Europe, taking over for Martin Smith, who is retiring at the end of the year.

The official word at Ford is that the company is making a smooth shift in management, COO Mark Fields set to replace the retiring Alan Mulally on July 1. But whether or not you call it a shake-up, things are getting pretty busy on the design side of the automaker’s org chart.

Only months after long-time design director J Mays handed his pen and sketchpad over to new global boss Moray Callum, Ford is now seeing a big transition in its European styling studios.

The Last Word!

Joel Piaskowski, who has only been with Ford since 2010, will be the maker’s new head of design on the continent, succeeding Martin Smith who also plans to retire late this year. Smith will spend his final months, we’re told, working on a special project with Callum “studying the future direction of Ford design.” That’s not out of line considering the impact Smith has had on Ford’s current styling strategy. (more…)

Ford Wants Drivers to Turn Less and Move More

Adaptive steering makes driving easier at all speeds.

by on May.30, 2014

Ford's new "adaptive steering" module, which was developed with Takata, will be available next year on certain models.

Ford is readying a new technology developed in concert with one of its suppliers designed to make vehicles easier to maneuver at low speeds and in tight spaces while making vehicles more agile at higher speeds.

Called “Adaptive Steering,” it changes the ratio between the number of times the driver turns the steering wheel and how much the front wheels turn. Normally, it’s a fixed ratio so regardless of how fast the car is moving, the driver is going to get the same result.

Beyond the Headlines!

Big turns require multiple spins of the wheel for tasks like parking or moving around objects in a parking lot, whereas at highways speeds, only slight movement of the wheel is required to adjust the turn. (more…)

Solar Roadway Project Sets Fundraising Record

Idaho entrepreneurs get strong backing for solar pavement concept.

by on May.30, 2014

Julie and Scott Brusaw lay down the solar pavers for the prototype driveway they've built.

Step onto the pavement on a hot day and you might get a sense of the energy that Scott and Julie Brusaw hope to tap into.

The Idaho couple hope to pave the country’s roadways with solar cells, rather than asphalt or concrete. It’s an admittedly edgy idea that the Idaho entrepreneurs nonetheless believe could replace much of the need for traditional sources of generating electricity in the U.S., including coal-fired power plants. And, apparently, a lot of folks like their idea, helping the Brusaws raise a record $1.5 million in preliminary funding through the Indiegogo.com crowdsourcing site.

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But they aren’t the only ones who believe roadways could also become energy sources. Volvo is working with the Swedish Transport Association to turn a stretch of roadway in the City of Gothenburg into a rolling battery charger that will be used by specially equipped electric buses. The concept might someday help eliminate the so-called range anxiety electric vehicle owners suffer due to the limited storage capacity of today’s batteries. (more…)

Death Toll from GM Defect Expected to Rise

Critics claim fatalities exceed 50, not the 13 claimed.

by on May.30, 2014

GM is expected to face even more claims related to its faulty ignition switch, including a rise in the number of deaths from 13 to more than 50.

Warnings have already been issued to expect the number of recalls from General Motors to rise this summer. Now, critics are claiming the number of fatalities blamed on an ignition-switch defect that forced General Motors to recall 2.6 million small cars will also rise dramatically in the coming weeks.

An attorney for a group claiming to have been injured in a GM vehicle with an ignition switch that turned off suddenly killing the engine and disabling the air bag claims to have evidence that at least the defect has contributed to the deaths of 60 motorists.

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Clarence Ditlow, the head of the Center for Auto Safety and a long-time GM critic, said this week that his review of complaints filed with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that the defect has contributed to at least 50 deaths and he expects the total to rise as investigators uncover more cases where air bags failed to deploy in GM cars because the engine had switched off. (more…)

Highway Crashes Cost Country $871 Annually

Financial toll about $900 annually for every American.

by on May.30, 2014

Crashes, such as this one blamed on distracted driving, take an enormous human and economic toll, a new NHTSA study underscores.

Roadway crashes are responsible for more than 30,000 annual deaths – they are, in fact, the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 34. But they also pose a serious economic burden for everyone living in the U.S.

A new federal study found that crashes cost the country $871 billion in in 2010. In terms of just the economic cost, a total of $277 billion, that works out to nearly $900 for every man, woman and child living in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study estimated that so-called societal harm, in terms of the damage done through loss of life, pain and injury, was more than twice as high, at an average $594 billion.

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“No amount of money can replace the life of a loved one, or stem the suffering associated with motor vehicle crashes,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “While the economic and societal costs of crashes are staggering, today’s report clearly demonstrates that investments in safety are worth every penny used to reduce the frequency and severity of these tragic events.”

(more…)

Major Shake-up at Automobile Magazine

Editor Jean Jennings leaves, HQ moves to California.

by on May.29, 2014

For now, no major editorial changes are planned -- at least none being openly revealed.

The publishing crunch has caught up with another major automotive magazine, the parent of Michigan-based Automobile ousting its long-time editor-in-chief and moving its headquarters to California as part of a broader shake-up in its troubled media network.

Along with the hit to Automobile, generally considered one of the weaker of the mainstream monthly U.S. automotive publications, Source Interlink Media will “absorb” 12 of its more specialized publications into the even 10 core brands that will survive. Fittingly, the company plans to rebrand itself as TEN: The Enthusiast Network.

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Along with Automobile, the surviving publications include Motor Trend, perhaps the most successful of the automotive publications at expanding its brand beyond its print origins, Hot Rod, Surfer, and TransWorld. Gone will be the likes of Popular Hot Rodding, Mud Life and 5.0 Mustang.

(more…)

Push for Record Continues as Ford Recalls 1.4 Million

U.S. makers closing in on high-water mark of 30.4 million.

by on May.29, 2014

Ford recalled 1.1 million 2008-2011 Ford Escapes, Mercury Mariners and Ford Explorers due to power steering issues.

Automakers in the U.S. are quickly closing in on the record for recalls of 30.4 million vehicles in 2004 with the latest round of actions announced by Ford today for 1.4 million vehicles.

The Dearborn, Michigan-based maker is recalling 1.1 million Ford Escapes, Mercury Mariners and Ford Explorers for power steering issues. The recalls are coming as U.S. and Canadian safety regulators step up the pressure on companies in light of General Motors’ current issues as well as other substantive problems by automakers in the recent past.

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Ford recalled 915,000 2008-2011 Escapes and Mariners in North America under pressure from Canadian officials. (more…)

First Drive: 2015 Volkswagen Golf and GTI

Worth the long wait.

by on May.29, 2014

The U.S. version of the VW GTI arrives about a year after its European launch.

It’s been a frustrating year for Volkswagen fans, the automaker forcing them to watch the roll-out of its all-new, seventh-generation Golf in Europe and much of the rest of the world while waiting for the Golf and GTI models to make the jump across the Atlantic.

Finally, they’ve arrived – but are they worth the wait? The all-new 2015 VW Golf and its sporty spin-off, the GTI, certainly seem to have everything going for them.  They’re bigger, roomier, more visually appealing, and while more powerful, they’re also more fuel-efficient, whatever your powertrain choice.

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That seemed like an awfully difficult formula to dismiss as we headed out West to take the new compact models for the requisite test drive through the San Francisco Bay area. And, as we quickly discovered, the Golf and GTI more than lived up to our initial expectations.

(more…)

Consumer Reports Blasts Honda Accord Hybrid MPG Claim

Latest hybrid to be faulted for overly optimistic mileage ratings.

by on May.29, 2014

The Honda Accord Hybrid was redesigned for 2014.

The 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid is the latest among a growing list of gas-electric models to take hits for what critics contend are overly optimistic and misleading mileage claims.

It’s not the first time Honda has been faulted for its hybrid mileage ratings – an estimated 47 mpg on the 2014 Accord version – but it’s far from alone, Ford last year lowering its own numbers for the Fusion C-Max that initially also had a 47 mpg rating.

By the Numbers!

But most manufacturers have been sticking by their fuel economy numbers, which are based on testing by the Environmental Protection Agency, despite concerns that the industry has been “gaming” the system by tuning vehicles to maximize results in those tests while delivering lower results in real-world driving.

“We’ve found that the EPA tests often exaggerate the fuel economy of hybrids,” said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports.

(more…)

S&P Slaps a Junk Rating on Tesla’s $2.9 Billion Debt

Agency concerned about long-term viability, narrow product niche.

by on May.29, 2014

Despite its stock rising more than 40% this year, Standard & Poors gave Tesla's $2.9 billion of debt a junk rating.

It may be the darling of Wall Street investors, but financial ratings agencies are far less smitten with California battery-carmaker Tesla Motors.

Standard & Poors gave Tesla’s $2.9 billion debt a rating of B-, which is considered “junk,” based on concerns about the company’s viability in the long term. Tesla boasts a market cap of $26 billion, which is almost half that of General Motors and more than a third of the value of Ford.

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Not surprisingly, Tesla officials pooh-poohed the rating. (more…)