Weekly News: May 28, 2001

May 28, 2001

AVERAGE FUEL ECONOMY DOWN The federal government has estimated the average fuel economy of new 2001 vehicles at 24.5 miles per gallon, down slightly from the 2000-model-year figure of 24.7 mpg. For 2001, cars are averaging 28.7 mpg while light truck models average a low 20.9 mpg, barely meeting the federally imposed average of 20.7. Cars are required to meet a federal corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) of 27.5 mpg. General Motors and Ford failed to meet the 20.7-mpg light-truck average. Average fuel-economy figures for new vehicles remain well below 1987's peak average of 26.2 miles per gallon.

ANOTHER EXPLORER TIRE PROBLEM Ford is recalling about 50,000 new 2002 Explorers for a potential tire problem. An assembly line conveyor at the automaker's Louisville, Kentucky, plant could have cut the tire tread as vehicles were moved through the facility. Ford says that the problem is not a threat to safety, although it will replace any damaged tires. Goodyear or Michelin tires are installed on the new Explorer.

DRIVING AGE FOR TRUCKERS MIGHT DROP TO 18 The U.S. Transportation Department is considering lowering the minimum driving age for interstate truckers from 21 to 18. The proposal would require drivers under 21 to take an additional 48-week training program that includes driving with an experienced driver. Safety advocates, accusing the trucking industry of trying to find cheaper labor, say that lowering the driving age will likely increase the number of accidents involving trucks, but the trucking industry says that lowering the minimum age will allow the trucking industry to recruit drivers out of high school at a time when there is a near-shortage of drivers.

FORD AND FIRESTONE GET UGLY Bridgestone Firestone announced that it will no longer supply tires to Ford Motor Company, because of Ford's refusal to acknowledge safety concerns dealing with the Explorer sport-utility vehicle. Firestone has maintained that the Explorer's design, Ford's improper specification of the tire, and Ford's recommendations for a lower tire pressure, contributed to problems with tire failure that eventually led to the recall of 6.5 million tires. Ford CEO Jac Nasser quickly countered the statement by again asserting that Ford has a good safety record with other tires and that Firestone has refused to work together with Ford. Firestone has said that Ford improperly specified the tire for the heavier Explorer, as the tires in question have a good record on the lighter Ranger models.

GROUP FINDS INADEQUATE SEATBELT POLICIES The National Safety Council has graded each state on its seatbelt use and enforcement policies, and 19 of the 50 states received poor grades in the assessment. The highest grades were given to California, New Mexico, Oregon, and Michigan, while Idaho, North and South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Mississippi, and New Hampshire were among the states ranking lowest. New Hampshire remains the only state with no seatbelt law. A cooperative nationwide crackdown on seatbelt enforcement is to be in effect from now until Memorial Day.

SUBARU ADDS ONSTAR Subaru will begin offering General Motors' OnStar telematics system in its vehicles, beginning with the 2003 Outback. Subaru Outback models will come with a one-year subscription to OnStar's safety, roadside emergency, and security features. OnStar now also includes various information and entertainment services, and a personal calling feature is being added in some markets. Other automakers are readily adopting the system, with Audi and Acura to use it on some models for '02 and Lexus already using the system under the name LexusLink.

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