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.

FORD DOUBLES FIRESTONE RECALL Ford Motor Company has decided to replace all 13 million Firestone Wilderness tires on its vehicles, calling it a precautionary measure. The automaker said that the safety record of all Wilderness tires is worse than tires offered from other tiremakers, not just those produced at the Decatur, Illinois, plant and covered by the original recall. Ford claims that data gathered with assistance from Firestone and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) supports this. Earlier in the week, Firestone said that it would stop supplying tires to Ford, due to a lack of cooperation and Ford's refusal to consider potential design flaws in the Explorer that might have led to the accidents. The move effectively doubles the size of the Firestone recall, although Ford will entirely pick up the bill this time, estimated to be in the vicinity of $3 billion. Ford will replace Wilderness AT tires on its Explorer, Expedition, Ranger, and F-150 models free of charge, regardless of the tire size. For more information, call Ford's customer service center at 800-300-1226. 

U.S. AUTO SALES WILL CONTINUE DECLINE Analysts expect May U.S. auto sales to continue their decline for the eighth straight month, with a 6.8-percent drop, says Bloomberg News. Domestic brands will again be hit hardest with General Motors expected to lose another 12 percent. Car sales are anticipated to drop by 9.2 percent, with a more modest drop of 4.3 percent for truck models.

REPORT RANKS INTEGRA MOST COSTLY IN THEFT According to Highway Loss Data Institute, the Acura Integra has the country's highest theft insurance rates. The organization's most recent study reveals the industry-wide theft premium for two-door Integras to average $230, while the average for passenger vehicles is only $15. The Chevrolet Corvette and Cadillac Escalade ranked second and third, with average theft premiums of $73 and $71, respectively. The group said that the Integra's accessories are popular with those who customize Honda Civics.

JACKSON THREATENS TOYOTA BOYCOTT Jesse Jackson is calling for a nationwide boycott of Toyota if the automaker does not fire its U.S. advertising agency, Los Angeles-based Saatchi and Saatchi. Jackson is protesting a postcard, targeting 18- to-34-year-olds, which features a gold RAV4 sport-utility vehicle on the tooth of a black man. Jackson calls the marketing materials negative imagery, and says that he has gathered support for a Toyota boycott. He also accused Toyota of not having a program to include minorities in its operations, and of not having enough minority-owned dealerships. At last check, a meeting between Jackson and company executives was said to be unproductive and Jackson was prepared to begin his demonstration against the company.

FORD SUVS TAKE A HIT IN NEWEST RATINGS The federal government has released its latest set of rollover ratings, this time for several sport-utility models that had not yet been rated. The popular full-size Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUV models scored a low, two-star rating in the center-of-gravity-based rollover formula, further marring Ford's SUV safety concerns. The other nine sport-utility vehicles, including the Nissan Pathfinder, Infiniti QX4, Isuzu Rodeo, Honda Passport, Lexus RX300, and Pontiac Aztek, in this batch of tests received three-star ratings.

LOST FIRESTONE BUSINESS WILL BE HARD TO RECOVER After saying that it will no longer supply tires to Ford Motor Company, Firestone can't expect to make up for it with increased business from automakers like General Motors. GM has admitted that it will decrease the use of Firestone tires on its vehicles, although the company might shift some of the vehicles to Bridgestone tires instead of Firestone tires, which would allow Bridgestone Firestone to keep most of its existing business with the automaker. Nissan, who also uses Firestone tires, has chosen to not use them this fall on its redesigned Altima model.

BILL WOULD REQUIRE STATE CELLPHONE LAWS A Representative from New York and a Senator from New Jersey have introduced a federal bill that would cut highway funds to states that don't pass laws banning the use of cellphones while driving within the next two years. In following years, the states would lose five percent of its highway funds the third year, and then an additional ten percent for each following year without such a law. Several local governments in New York and New Jersey have already passed laws on the issue, but state and federal proposals have not had success.

GAS-PRICE RELIEF ON THE WAY...FOR MOST AREAS A long-awaited dip in gasoline prices on the stock market won't find its way to pumps for at least a few weeks. After reaching a record high of nearly $1.18 per gallon, gasoline futures are falling on the New York exchange, signaling that gas prices will probably peak during the busy Memorial Day weekend and the period immediately afterward. Supplies of reformulated gasoline for smog-prone urban areas are expected to remain tight for the rest of the summer.

FORD EXPANDS ENGINE PLANT Ford Motor Company has announced that it will invest $117 million in its Romeo, Michigan, V-8 engine plant, citing strong demand for the engines. The renovation will expand the plant and add a second engine line, for an upcoming all-aluminum engine. The facility currently makes 4.6-liter V-8 engines.

MEN STILL MORE STUBBORN ABOUT DIRECTIONS According to a survey sponsored by the information service MapQuest, men are more likely than ever to ask for directions when necessary, breaking the age-old myth that they are less likely to stop and get help. The survey found that more than half of men are likely to admit they're lost and seek help, with more than 30 percent admitting that they'll stop and ask for directions, although 46 percent of women would admit stopping for help. Men were slightly more likely than women to pull out a map when lost (50 percent versus 45 percent for women).

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