Weekly News: April 9, 2001

April 9, 2001

AMERICANS BACK TIGHTER FUEL-EFFICIENCY REQUIREMENTS According to a new Time-CNN poll, Americans strongly back the development of a plan to fight global warming, and more than half back higher fuel-economy requirements. About 55 percent of those polled favored government action to require improvements in fuel efficiency, even if achieved only through small, more expensive vehicles. The poll, based on 1025 respondents, also estimated that about half of Americans would be willing to pay 25 cents more per gallon to fight global warming.

TRAFFIC DEATH RATE UP? Preliminary statistics released last week by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration place the traffic death rate up slightly for 2000. According to a Detroit News report, the agency estimates the rate to be 1.6 deaths per 100 million miles traveled, up from 1.5 for 1999. This would make it the first time that the death rate has risen in 24 years. In the U.S., 41,800 people died from traffic accidents in 2000, versus 41,611 in 1999.

STUDY: ROUNDABOUTS SAVE LIVES A new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, estimates that the use of roundabouts at major intersections reduces fatal accidents by almost 90 percent. Of 24 studied intersections that had been changed from stoplight arrangements to roundabouts, the roundabouts had 38 percent fewer accidents, with far fewer severe accidents. The study's author says that roundabouts are comparable in cost to traffic lights, and they save energy and maintenance expenses.

OIL GIANT TOPS FORTUNE 500 Big oil has topped General Motors in the annual Fortune 500, with Exxon Mobil officially taking the number one position for 2000. General Motors fell from first to third in the rankings, which order companies by revenue. Exxon Mobil's annual revenue was at $210 billion, versus $184.6 billion for GM. Wal-Mart kept its second-place ranking on the list.

POTHOLES: THE OTHER ROAD TAX? A new report from a nonprofit transportation research group called The Road Information Program (TRIP) says that roads in need of repair are costing American drivers $41.5 billion per year, or about $222 per motorist, due to vehicle and tire damage from potholes and poor surfacing. The report also looked at road-condition data in each state. New Mexico, Missouri, Louisiana, California, and Oklahoma ranked the worst, with motorists in those states paying more than $350 extra in vehicle costs per year due to damage from roads.

LAWYERS PUSH FOR EXPANDED TIRE RECALL Lawyers in an Oklahoma lawsuit against Bridgestone Firestone say that they will launch a media campaign to try to force the tiremaker to recall all tires made at the Decatur, Illinois, plant, according to USA Today. All of the 6.5 million tires that were recalled last year by the company were made at the Decatur plant, and the lawyers in the case cite a report made by an expert noting a correlation between failed tires and the Decatur plant.

LIGHT TRUCKS SAFER, SAY NUMBER-CRUNCHERS A new Rutgers University study concludes that putting more light trucks on the road would actually reduce traffic fatalities. Reported in Automotive News, the study predicts that a ten-percent increase in light trucks would reduce single-vehicle fatalities by ten percent and multiple-vehicle fatalities by four percent. The predictions were made using a statistical regression analysis of accident data.

DEVICE FIGHTS JACKKNIFING Safe Transportation Systems of Bellingham, Washington, is introducing a new device that claims to prevent semi-truck jackknifing, reports the New York Times. The mechanical system, engaged during highway driving, detects the angle of the trailer and applies the brakes on each side individually to counter the beginnings of a jackknife situation. The company claims that its system will save lives, citing that nearly a quarter of semi crashes involve the trailer getting out of line with the cab.

MARCH SALES DECLINE NOT SO BAD U.S. auto sales in March were down, but not as much as initially anticipated. Analysts estimate March sales to be down about four percent versus a year ago, to a seasonally adjusted rate of 16.8 million, still well under the 16-million rate some predicted for earlier in the year. U.S. automakers were again the hardest hit, with GM's sales down 5.1 percent, Ford's down 13.3 percent, and Chrysler down ten percent. Toyota reported sales up more than eleven percent, versus last year. Although some analysts predict the downturn might be nearing bottom, automakers are preparing for a slowdown, with GM recently announcing second-quarter production cuts.

DC, MITSU, VOLVO SHUFFLE PROPERTIES DaimlerChrysler might soon raise its stake in Mitsubishi, through the purchase of Volvo's 3.3-percent stake in the Japanese company, according to Automotive News. DaimlerChrysler announced to Mitsubishi that it would negotiate with Volvo for the shares. The deal would raise DC's stake in Mitsubishi to 37 percent, from its current share of 34 percent. Also, Mitsubishi Motors has agreed to purchase Volvo Cars’ half of the automakers' joint venture plant in the Netherlands, for $130 million. Mitsubishi will assume control of the plant, with new partner DaimlerChrysler. Mitsubishi said that it plans to sell its half of the venture to DaimlerChrysler by 2004.

EXPERTS: CHILD RESTRAINT LAWS NOT GOOD ENOUGH According to a new survey conducted by DaimlerChrysler and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nine out of ten parents believe that current state passenger safety laws are adequate for their child's safety, while all experts polled said that the current laws are inadequate. The survey, conducted through the DaimlerChrysler program Fit for a Kid, enforced the urgency that states need to place on raising child safety laws to include requirements for booster seats and better child safety seats.

VISTEON CUTTING 1800 JOBS Dearborn, Michigan-based Visteon has announced that it is cutting another 1800 jobs, about two percent of its entire work force, in an effort to make its operations leaner. The supplier said that salaried workers would make up about 950 of the cuts.

ALLSTATE CHASES FRAUD Allstate Insurance in New Jersey has filed a lawsuit against people allegedly connected to a staged-accident ring and subsequent fraud scheme. Through the complex scheme, members staged accidents with vehicles they had stolen, or with public transit buses. Participants in the operation, centered in Elizabeth, New Jersey, used multiple fake identities and addresses. Allstate says industry-wide fraud costs add nearly $300 to family premiums.

GM RECALLS 2002 MID-SIZE SUVS General Motors is recalling all new 2002 Chevrolet TrailBlazer, GMC Envoy, and Oldsmobile Bravada SUVs--and ordering all of them to be parked immediately--due to a potentially faulty front suspension piece. Front suspension lower control arms on the vehicles have an unspecified problem, according to the automaker, and failure of the part would lead to loss of control. GM is having dealerships contact owners and arrange for the SUVs to be towed back to the dealership to have the parts replaced. Production at the Moraine, Ohio, plant that produces the models has been stopped through April 16 to fix vehicles that are still at the facility.

JURY: FORD NOT TO BLAME IN ROLLOVERS The jury in a Texas court case against Ford Motor Company has decided that design defects in the Ford Explorer did not play a role in rollover accidents involving the SUV fitted with Firestone tires. Many of the 6.5 million tires recalled by last year's massive recall were installed as original equipment on Explorers. The court decision sets a precedent and reduces the threat of other such lawsuits against Ford, allowing company bean counters to breathe a sigh of relief.

UAW CHIEF: DC SAVING CHRYSLER The United Auto Workers' leader, Steve Yokich, has spoken out for the first time about the Chrysler turnaround plan, saying that Chrysler might not have had the funds for a turnaround if it hadn't been purchased by Daimler-Benz in 1998. Yokich also said that he doesn't believe that the German company will seek to get rid of Chrysler, because it will eventually make money again. In January, Chrysler announced that it planned to cut 26,000 jobs as part of the plan.

GM PARTNERS FOR ONLINE DEGREES General Motors has announced a partnership with UNext, an online learning services company that will offer Internet-based training and degrees over the Internet to GM management, according to the Detroit News. The partnership will first offer a master's degree program to management. GM says participation in the online program will save at least $4 million per year from its training and education expenditure.

NHTSA ANNOUNCES CHILD-SEAT GUIDE The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has added child safety seat information to its Web site. The site features a list of current models, recommendations on how to select the right model, and tips on how to properly install your child restraint. To view the guide, go to www.nhtsa.dot.gov and click on the “Child Safety Seats” icon.

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