Week of September 13, 1999

September 13, 1999





FRANKFURT FOLLIES This week’s media previews at the Frankfurt Auto Show promise a clutch of concept and production cars the likes of which haven’t been seen since, well, since the Detroit auto show. DaimlerChrysler will debut the Java, the basis for a future compact car destined for Europe and the rest of the world. It’s based on the Neon platform but taller and with easier ingress/egress. GM will show off its 2000 Cadillac Seville luxury sedan, with a less-polluting, more-efficient Northstar V-8 engine, and Ford may show off the entry it hopes to ply in Formula One next year as Jaguar Racing. Stay tuned all next week for updates from the Frankfurt Auto Show.



BLUEOVALNEWS.COM WINS In a David-over-Goliath victory, a small Web site has delivered a knock-down blow to Ford Motor Co. A decision by a U.S. federal court judge in Detroit means BlueOvalNews.com may continue posting some of Ford’s most closely guarded company secrets. Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds refused to extend a temporary restraining order she issued last week against Robert Lane, who operates the Web site BlueOvalNews.com. Lane had published internal documents detailing future Ford engines, vehicles, and recall plans. As part of the ruling, Lane must identify the source of his documents, and cannot publish additional documents verbatim, nor can he solicit new documents from Ford employees.

For the final word on BlueOvalNews.com, click here






HIGHWAY DEATHS DROP The National Transportation Safety Board says last year’s highway deaths dropped again despite increases in mileage driven and higher speed limits. A total of 43,920 people died on the nation's highways in 1998, some 533 less than in 1997. However, deaths increased in the category of light trucks and vans and in motorcycles. "The overall drop in transportation fatalities is encouraging, however, we cannot stop there," NTSB Chairman Jim Hall said in a press release.



AIRBAGS GO TO COURT Among the cases it has decided to hear in the upcoming year, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether automakers must defend against hundreds of personal-injury lawsuits claiming they should have moved more quickly to install airbags and other safety devices. Last week the high court agreed to review a lawsuit against American Honda Motor Co. that charged the company negligent for not installing airbags before they were mandated. In the case, the plaintiff argued that an airbag would have prevented serious injury in a car accident in 1992. Most courts on similar issues have ruled that federal rules, such as the Department of Transportation’s airbag mandates, preclude traditional product-liability lawsuits.



GM ASKS NHTSA TO DROP RECALL General Motors Corp. has petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to drop an investigation that could lead to the recall of 280,000 of the company's sport-utility vehicles, arguing that the agency's test for neck injuries from airbags is flawed. A recent test found that the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon both exceeded limits for neck injuries during airbag deployments. NHTSA has not yet announced a formal recall of the vehicles.



DC OPENS FIRST CHILD-SEAT STATION DaimlerChrysler last week unveiled its first child-seat inspection station in an attempt to reduce the hundreds of injuries incurred each year by children placed in incorrectly installed child seats. In conjunction with Fisher-Price and the National Safety Council, DC’s "Fit for a Kid" program ensures that the seat is being installed and used properly. It will only be open to DaimlerChrysler customers. DC cites government studies that have shown that four out of five children in safety seats are incorrectly restrained. DaimlerChrysler's program will create 2,000 trained and certified inspectors at 1,000 of its dealerships across the country, at a cost of between $10 million and $15 million a year.



FORD, GM RECALLS This week’s big recalls hit Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. On Friday, GM recalled 168,036 1999 Buick Century and 1999 Buick Regal midsize sedans manufactured between March 1998 and April 1999. GM said a short in the anti-lock brake system could cause the fuel hose to overheat and leak, possibly resulting in a fire under the hood. No reports of accidents or injuries had been received as a result of the defect. Also last week, Ford recalled 183,000 1998 and 1999 Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique compact sedans, the second recall on those cars this summer. The recall will repair a fraying accelerator cable that could cause the gas pedal to stick while the vehicle is running. Ford officials said they have received no reports of accidents or injuries from the defect on those vehicles manufactured between July 1997 and April 1998.



CHEROKEE TO LIVE ON? Reports in the automotive press suggest DaimlerChrysler will keep building the current antediluvian Jeep Cherokee, even after a new "KJ" Cherokee hits the streets in 2001. The plan might include building older Cherokees for other markets for some time, while filling the pipeline with the new vehicle for North American markets. The Jeeps are built in Toledo, Ohio, where a new plant for the new vehicle is to be built. An unnamed source told Reuters: "Some of the sales and marketing people think that there's a place for the Cherokee to continue life even after the new KJ comes out. And then there's some people who think it's a ridiculous idea."



FORD SPENDS AGAINST HARASSMENT Ford Motor Co. will spend $17.5 million to fend off sexual and racial harassment at its assembly plants. In the past year, complaints at two Chicago-area Ford plants allege that women were subjected to pornography, sexual graffiti on factory walls, and daily degrading comments. In order to avoid the nasty PR that befell Mitsubishi Motors in a similar case, Ford said it would pay $250,000 to two women for damages, create a $7.5 million damage fund for between 700 and 900 women, promote more women in Chicago plants, start a $10 million nationwide training program, and hold supervisors accountable for harassment.



SAMSUNG IN TALKS TO SELL South Korean car company Samsung (it makes VCRs, too) says it’s negotiating with three carmakers to take over its car-making operations. "We have been seriously negotiating with three foreign firms on the sale of Samsung Motors since we filed court receivership application in June," Samsung Group spokesman Ha Joo-ho told Reuters. Samsung has been caught in the swirling economic mess in South Korea that drove Kia into the arms of Hyundai and has driven just about every other company into the red. Earlier this summer, Nissan denied it was interested in acquiring Samsung, even though it lent the company the old Nissan Maxima platform to build its only car line.



OLDS BRINGS BACK THE LOGO With brighter sales in its forecast, Oldsmobile is doing something it hasn’t done in nearly five years — it’s putting its name and logo on the back end of its cars. The company had deleted the identifiers, beginning with the Aurora in 1994, for fear that the company’s then-moribund lineup would hurt sales of new products. The brand’s sales are up more than 26 percent from 1998, and although they haven’t met an internal goal of 400,000 units a year, Olds expects to sell between 360,000 to 370,000 cars and trucks this year.



ANTI-UAW GROUP AT MBUSI DISBANDS An anti-UAW support group that included Mercedes-Benz U.S. International support has been disbanded. The nonprofit group, shuttered at the request of Democratic Alabama Gov. Don Seigelman, was raising money for workers opposed to a UAW organizing drive at MBUSI, the plant that builds the M-Class sport-ute. MBUSI denied knowing about the anti-UAW activities when it joined, a spokesman told Reuters. The UAW has been keen to unionize the Alabama plant and break the stranglehold of nonunion transplants, such as MBUSI and Honda’s North American assembly operations.




DC MINIVANS GET TV If you want your MTV and your DaimlerChrysler minivan, your wish may finally have come true. The company will offer a rear-seat video entertainment system in its minivans, following the lead of the Nissan Quest and Ford Windstar.

The Chrysler vans will feature a liquid-crystal display, a choice of where to position the system console, and wireless headphones, for $1,500, including installation.



PENNSYLVANIA GETS CYBERPLATES The Net generation is taking to Pennsylvania’s highways with the issuance of new license plates that include the state’s Internet address, www.state.pa.us. Gov. Tom Ridge said the Web address is both symbolic and functional, illustrating the state's high-tech leadership, but also directing people to Pennsylvania's Web presence.

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