Weekly News: June 25, 2001

June 25, 2001

REPLACEMENT TIRES DANGEROUS, TOO? The blame was pointed in all directions on Capitol Hill this past week, as Ford Motor Company, Bridgestone Firestone, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provided heated testimony to Congressional investigators. Representative (and head of the House Commerce Committee) Billy Tauzin alluded that investigations had found the failure rates of some of the replacement tires Ford is using on Explorer SUVs to be even worse than the Firestone tires recalled. Ford CEO Jac Nasser prompted Tauzin for the data, but the committee was not yet ready to release it, calling for 30 more days for the NHTSA to examine data and draw its conclusions.

NHTSA OPENS EXPLORER INVESTIGATION Federal regulators from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have agreed to open an investigation on the legitimacy of Firestone’s claim that there is a possible design flaw in the Ford Explorer. The agency was pressured by Congressional investigators earlier this week for not moving faster with its investigation into the cause of 203 fatalities and hundreds more injuries resulting from the failure of Firestone tires, mostly mounted on Ford Explorers. Firestone attests that the Explorer is extremely difficult to control following tire failure, and there might be a problem with the SUV's steering, while Ford maintains that the problem remains entirely a tire issue.

Ford, Firestone Face Congress

UAW MEMBERS SUPPORT FORD ON CAPITOL HILL About 3500 United Auto Workers members who work at Ford Motor Company facilities drove Ford Explorers to Washington, D.C., last week to rally their confidence in the safety of the SUV as Ford CEO Jac Nasser provided testimony to Congress. The workers, concerned for their jobs at plants in Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky, traveled to Washington to attest to the safety of their vehicles.

TOYOTA TO BUILD 300,000 HYBRIDS PER YEAR BY 2005 Toyota has unveiled a Japanese-market hybrid-powertrain minivan that will get more than 40 miles per gallon. The hybrid version of the Estima minivan model uses the same hybrid drive system as the Prius small sedan. Toyota plans to sell the minivan at just under $30,000 in Japan, and U.S. plans have not yet been announced. The Japanese automaker also said last week that it hopes to produce 300,000 hybrid vehicles per year in 2005, from 19,000 in 2000.

Toyota Penning Cheaper Hybrid (6/18/01)

AGGRESSIVE DRIVERS SHOW POOR RESPONSE TO STRESS A new university survey from the Center for Stress and Anxiety Disorders at SUNY-Albany points to a direct correlation between aggressive-driving tendencies and the way in which people respond physiologically to stress. The study measured blood pressure and muscle tension for a group of aggressive drivers and a group of calmer drivers, and showed that the aggressive drivers had elevated blood pressure while the nonaggressive drivers did not. If anything, the investigators behind the study suggest relaxation and deep breathing as ways to reduce these violent responses behind the wheel.

DEATHS RISE FOR OLDER RIDERS Motorcycle deaths are rising again, and federal statistics show that older riders account for most of the increase in fatalities, reports the Chicago Tribune. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) figures show motorcyclist deaths to be up 27 percent in the past three years. Through the 1990s, the portion of deaths of motorcyclists 40 years old and up rose from 17 percent to nearly 40 percent. Most of these Baby Boomers are riding expensive touring bikes, which the NHTSA suspects might be less safe than lighter bikes, although the agency is uncertain as to exactly why the rates have risen.

NISSAN RECALLS SENTRAS Nissan is recalling about 130,000 Sentra models for a potential problem with the front suspension. Attachment bolts for the lower control arms could break, which could lead to a loss of steering control. Only 2001-model-year Sentras made from July 6, 2000 through April 16, 2001 are affected by the recall.

WAGONER SAYS GM WILL FIGHT FUEL-ECONOMY STANDARDS General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner said that the automaker will oppose any movement to increase federal fuel-economy standards, and also any move to be more strict about which vehicles can be classified as light trucks, according to a New York Times report. Minivans, car-based sport-utility vehicles, and even crossover vehicles may now be classified as light trucks to help automakers' fuel economy ratings meet the federally mandated average of 20.7 mpg for light trucks.

GM DELAYS CROSSOVERS General Motors has changed plans for a new family of upcoming truck-car crossover vehicles, setting them back a year and shuffling brand names that they will sell under. According to a Reuters report, the so-called Lambda-based vehicles will now be launched in 2005 rather than 2004, and Buick and Saturn will get versions instead of GMC. The vehicles are still planned for production at the new assembly plant in Lansing, Michigan, according to the report.

GM PURCHASE MIGHT KILL DAEWOO BRAND IN U.S. If General Motors purchases Korea's Daewoo Motor Co., it might choose not to sell Daewoo cars in the U.S. if they're not profitable, says Bloomberg News, citing a comment from GM CEO Richard Wagoner. To Korean creditors, that information makes the sale of the automaker to GM less attractive, considering they want to arrange for the sale of Daewoo's main Bupyong plant, and most of the production from that plant is U.S.-bound. Fourteen percent of Daewoo's global exports are to the U.S., according to the report.

MINI DEALERS ANNOUNCED BMW has decided on the elite list of 70 U.S. Mini dealers. The new network of dealers, chosen from applicants from BMW dealership owners, is weighted toward major metropolitan areas, and most of the new Mini dealerships will be adjacent to existing BMW dealerships. Mini's dealer locator is now available online, at www.miniusa.com, although the car will not be available here until next spring.

MG ROVER BUYS QVALE MANGUSTA San Francisco-based Qvale Automotive Group has confirmed the sale of its Italian manufacturing facilities to Britain's MG Rover. The Modena, Italy, facility currently builds the Qvale Mangusta, a low-volume sports car. The British automaker plans to build a new sports car, codenamed the MG X80, at the Italian plant beginning next year. A U.S.-bound version of that car has been confirmed.

SPAIN WILL KEEP LOPEZ Spain's National Court in Madrid has rejected the extradition of former GM executive Jose Ignacio Lopez de Arriortua. Lopez, under an American arrest warrant, is accused of revealing confidential GM documents to Volkswagen, his next employer. The Spanish court also criticized U.S. authorities for waiting so long to request the extradition. Lopez allegedly committed the crimes in 1992, and he was indicted in a Detroit federal court last year for wire fraud and transportation of stolen property, among other offenses.

CONSUMER REPORTS WARNS AGAINST MONTERO LIMITED The consumer watchdog publication Consumer Reports has rated the 2001 Mitsubishi Montero Limited "not acceptable," due to its tipsy performance in the magazine's standard emergency maneuver tests. Consumer Reports advised against buying the vehicle until the manufacturer has taken corrective action on the problem.  The non-profit organization says that it tested six other SUVs on the same day with the same drivers, and none of the other models exhibited behavior like the Montero at speeds of 37 mph and above. CU says that a rollover would have likely resulted from the maneuver, which simulates an emergency lane change at various speeds. In their defense, Mitsubishi points to the Montero's good real-world safety record, and the lack of any documented rollover accidents that would demonstrate that behavior.

Cons. Reports: Montero Unsafe (6/20/01)

CARFAX ADDS POLLUTERS The vehicle history information service Carfax has added California gross polluter records to its database. Now, vehicles that have failed smog inspections in the past will be flagged with an alert. All consumers need is the vehicle identification number. For now, the service is offered free of charge at www.carfax.com/polluter.

FORD USING PAINT-BASED AIRFLOW SYSTEM Ford Motor Company has revealed an innovative, pressure-sensitive paint system that is capable of speeding up the process of measuring airflow over cars. The automaker can use the special paint method, which it has been developing since 1999, in its existing wind tunnel. Ford says that the new method greatly cuts preparation time for wind tunnel testing. Aerospace company Boeing originally developed the system, but Ford developed this version for cars.

NHTSA RELEASES NEW CRASH RESULTS The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released a new round of rollover resistance ratings and crash test results. The agency now lists rollover ratings for the Dodge Ram Wagon and Jeep Cherokee two-door (although the model is now discontinued), as well as frontal impact results for Toyota Tacoma and Ford F-150 pickup models and side impact results for the Hyundai Accent four-door and Toyota Tacoma. To see the results, go to www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

JACKSON CALLS OFF BOYCOTT Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson says that he will postpone a boycott of Toyota products due to the automaker's pending discussions with an African-American advertising firm. Jackson threatened the Toyota boycott last month, following the release of an ad, depicting the image of a Toyota sport-utility vehicle on a black man's gold tooth, which was distributed at night clubs. Jackson says that he will now give Toyota until August 1 to increase its level of diversity and see a portion of its ad spending go to minority firms in order to avoid the boycott.

Jackson Blasts Toyota Ad (5/28/01)

MOVIE HAS COPS EDGY Authorities are reportedly worried about the potential for copycats linked to the release of "The Fast and the Furious," a new movie that portrays illegal street racers and the underground culture around it. Police think that the movie might inspire more people to take up street racing. Street racers often reach triple-digit speeds on suburban streets, putting their own lives and those of innocent bystanders in danger. The movie made its debut Friday. 

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