Weekly News: March 26, 2001

March 25, 2001

VIPER RECALLED FOR RACING HARNESS DaimlerChrysler is recalling 615 Dodge Viper ACR and GT-2 Commemorative Edition models for potential problems with the optional five-point racing harnesses in the cars. The harnesses reportedly might not meet FIA requirements for racing. The recall does not affect the standard seatbelt system in Viper models.

DC TRADING LEMONS? DaimlerChrysler was accused of reselling lemon cars that the automaker had bought back for chronic problems, without telling the new buyers. Safety Forum, a legal and consumer action group, says it has North Carolina documents to verify the claim. Later last week, seven parties filed a North Carolina lawsuit against DaimlerChrysler, accusing the automaker of reselling defective vehicles that had already been bought back due to lemon laws. The suit, which seeks class action status, alleges that the buyers were not informed of the status of the vehicles, and they would not have purchased them knowing they had been lemon cars. Chrysler Group officials denied that the company had any knowledge of the practices and stressed the independence of its dealerships. Chrysler already had to deal with a similar lemon-car scandal in California in 1996.

MORE CELLPHONE LEGISLATION PENDING More states than ever are currently considering legislation restricting the use of cellphones while driving, and twelve states have begun to collect their own data on the matter, according to an Agence France-Presse report. The only states with minor cellphone restrictions now are California, Florida, and Massachusetts. The report cites a University of Toronto professor who compared the risk of an accident from cellphone distraction to be on par with the risk due to alcohol consumption at the legal limit.

PUT DOWN THOSE FRIES Eating while driving might be causing a surprising portion of accidents, according to a Foundation for Traffic Safety study. Out of more than 26,000 crashes studied by the group, half of them could be attributed to driver distraction, and of those about 19 percent involved eating or drinking, the second most frequent type of distraction after distractions due to something outside the car. Distraction due to cellphones ranked at a low 1.5 percent, although the data was from 1995 to 1998, when far fewer drivers had them.

GM RECALLS CARS FOR FIRE HAZARD General Motors is recalling about 778,000 Buick Skylark, Oldsmobile Achieva, and Pontiac Grand Am models due to a potential problem with ignition-switch fires. On affected cars built between May 1993 and June 1995, heat could build up in the ignition switch if it is held in the start position, possibly resulting in a fire.

NHTSA INVESTIGATES DC MINIVAN AIRBAGS The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened an investigation into a potential problem with inoperable airbags on as many as 2.8 million Chrysler minivans. The agency is investigating various consumer-reported problems, affecting 1996 to 2000 models, with the airbags not deploying.

For more information on the airbag investigation, click here.

FORD REOPENS PLANT AFTER OUTBREAK Ford Motor Company reopened its Cleveland Casting Plant after three days of disinfecting due to a Legionnaires' disease scare. An expert group of disease-control people oversaw the disinfecting process. After it was suspected that three employees had contracted the Legionella bacteria from inside the plant, Ford closed the facility. The cooling towers were suspected to be the cause, although no firm cause has been released. There have been two deaths from the infection at the plant.

MIATA ADMITS BOASTING Mazda has admittedly miscalculated the horsepower on its 2001 Miata by eight percent. While the automaker advertised 155 hp for the model, actual output was 142 hp. Mazda is offering owners a $500 debit card or a repurchase option on the car, as well as an extension to the warranty's free maintenance coverage.

New car, broken promise? Click here.

IIHS RELEASES LATEST ROUND OF CRASH TESTS The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has released new-model results from its crash tests. The Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Lexus LS430, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class were all given good or acceptable ratings in all areas, although the Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Sebring sedans, Chrysler LHS and 300M models were given marginal ratings for leg/foot injuries. Bumper performance was another issue, with the Focus, Stratus/Sebring, 300M/LHS, LS430, C-Class, and E-Class all receiving marginal or poor ratings for bumper performance. For more information on the tests, go to www.iihs.org. Also, insurance company Progressive has made full-motion video footage of the latest Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash results available online. The 40-mph, frontal offset barrier tests for the Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Dodge Stratus, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and E-Class, Lexus LS430, and the Chrysler LHS are viewable at www.progressive.com.

CAMRY MOST POPULAR WITH THIEVES Toyota Camry models have once again topped the list as the most frequent targets of auto thieves, with Honda Accord models ranking second, according to the annual report from CCC Information Services. During 2000, the 1989 Camry was stolen more frequently than any other vehicle. Imports continued to rank high in general, although the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet C1500 also showed high theft rates. The firm also broke the results down by region, with thieves in the Midwest and South preferring domestic cars while thieves on the coasts preferred imports.

For more on what’s popular with thieves, and a list of the most-stolen cars, click here.

GM-UAW DEAL AVOIDS LAYOFFS General Motors has reached a deal with the United Auto Workers to idle its Lake Orion plant for short periods rather than laying off hundreds of workers, according to Reuters. The previous GM plan would have reduced the line speed at the plant by 25 percent, affecting as many as 850 people. The new plan will instead result in some idle time and extended layoffs.

GM-SUBARU VENTURE LIKELY TO BE BUILT IN INDIANA General Motors and Subaru parent Fuji Heavy Industries are at the decision-making stages of an all-wheel-drive joint-venture vehicle that will go into production in 2004. The sport wagon, according to Automotive News, would be built at the existing Subaru/Isuzu facility in Lafayette, Indiana, and Chevrolet, Pontiac, or Saab might get versions of it.

STATES INVESTIGATE GPS-BASED ROAD TAX Nine states, along with the Federal Highway Administration, are funding a new study to look into possibilities of using global positioning systems (GPS) technology to figure road taxes individually by vehicle, according to a Reuters report. Under a proposed system, road taxes would be calculated depending on what roads the individual traveled and how often, based on the idea that a gas tax would no longer be as meaningful with more alternative-fuel vehicles. The study is particularly looking into questions regarding privacy, security, and tampering.

SUMMER GAS SPIKE POSSIBLE Although gas prices are staying low for now, according to a MSNBC report there are many possible problems that could lead to a substantial spike in pump prices by summer: OPEC's cutting too much crude-oil production, increased demand, and shortages of the MTBE additive needed in some areas for summer reformulations. The report points out that while President Bush might be ready to sign waivers that allow "dirty gasoline" to be sold in smog-ridden areas, major oil companies that have invested heavily in the higher standard may be the toughest opposition.

HONDA WILL USE NEW CATALYTIC CONVERTERS Honda announced that it will start using a new type of catalytic converter that, most importantly, will cut the use of precious metals by as much as 70 percent. The new catalysts use metal oxides in place of thin coatings of metals such as platinum, palladium, and rhodium. Honda holds a ten-percent stake in Catalytic Solutions, the California company that developed the technology. Honda plans to introduce the new catalysts in Japan next month, but there are no plans yet for U.S. models. Other automakers, including GM, are evaluating the technology, although no other companies have agreed to adopt it so far. The new technology might save up to $200 in materials costs for large vehicles.

TELEMATICS DEVICES DIFFICULT FOR OLDER DRIVERS With countless telematics devices on the way in the next few years, scientists are concerned about the ability of older motorists to use them properly and not become confused, lost, or distracted, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune. The story cites University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute results that show motorists age 65 to 75 perform telematics tasks at a much slower rate. One particular study showed that older drivers took up to twice as long to read maps from onboard GPS systems. Basic tasks on some telematics devices can take older drivers minutes rather than seconds, causing extremely dangerous distractions.

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