Weekly News: July 23, 2001

July 23, 2001

In what may be a case of "too much, too early," gasoline prices have tumbled around the nation, the result of refiners scrambling to close a gap between supply and demand which was not, after all, all that enormous after all. Earlier predictions of $3 a gallon gasoline were commonplace after a spring escalation in prices, itself largely prompted by an April report that supplies of reformulated gasoline were four million barrels below a year earlier. When it was pointed out the gap between supply and demand was the narrowest it had been in 25 years, refiners responded, going all out to bring as much product to market. In fact, their response created a glut, the result being prices that are an average of 12.8 cents lower than their June 22 levels and 16 cents a gallon less than a year ago, according to the Lundberg Survey of about 8,000 gas stations nationwide.


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has asked Firestone for a wider recall of its Wilderness AT tires. Firestone Chief Executive Officer John Lampe denied that a recall of more than the originally-mandated 6.5 million Wilderness AT tires was needed: "We do not agree that any further action regarding our tires is necessary,'' said Lampe. "Our tires are safe. There is not a defect in these tires.'' However, a NHTSA representative says that the request was the first step to what could become a wider recall of the tires. "Firestone was asked to recall some of the tires and they refused to do so,'' Transportation Department spokesman Chet Lunner said. "Therefore, NHTSA will issue an initial defect decision, the next step toward a forced recall.'' Firestone recalled 6.5 million tires in August of 2000 after a series of accidents involving tread separation were made public. Some 203 deaths and hundreds of injuries have been attributed to the defect, which Firestone says is also partly the fault of the Ford Explorer, the vehicle on which most of the tires in question have been installed.


Vice President Dick Cheney says the Bush Administration may indeed back higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards being bandied about Capitol Hill. The White House, Cheney said, expects to make a decision after receiving a report due from the National Academy of Sciences later this year. Cheney told Jim Lehrer of NewsHour that, "We may end up recommending an increase in CAFE standards, but, as I say, we've not yet seen a detailed report. As soon as we have that, Norm Mineta, the Secretary of Transportation, has been directed to sit down and go to work on it and come up with some recommendations.'' The current standards, approved in 1975, call for passenger car fleets to achieve a 27.5-mpg average, and light trucks 20.7 mpg.


An insurance industry research firm has given its lowest crash ratings to the Hyundai Elantra and the 2001 Dodge Grand Caravan, although DaimlerChrysler said it would be replacing the part that resulted in a small gas leak and the poor marks. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which tests differently from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), gave the Hyundai Elantra its lowest crash ratings when in two out of three tests the driver-side airbag deployed too late. In one test, the crash dummy head reportedly hit the steering wheel. In the NHTSA full frontal crash tests, the Chrysler minivan had earned four out of five stars, although it has yet to test the Elantra.


While cohorts at Ford and Chrysler are planning big moves back into rear-wheel drive, Chevrolet is looking through the GM product plan to find its own way back to its roots. The brand needs a four-door, rear-drive vehicle but needs to find a way to make it available with a stability-control system, says Chevrolet General Marketing Manager Kurt Ritter. "I think we see a need at Chevrolet for rear-wheel drive, but it's got to be rear-wheel drive at an affordable price point and range," Ritter told Automotive News. Chevrolet last marketed a rear-drive sedan in 1996--the unloved Caprice. A GM spokesman said that the brand had nothing anywhere near approval.


Possibly in response to a wave of anti-cell-phone hysteria--and legislation in New York State--Ford has announced that it will offer a Cellport handsfree telephone on the 2002 Ford Windstar and Taurus and the 2002 Mercury Sable. The system uses voice-activated commands to dial numbers and activate the phone, and is scheduled to become available on some Lincoln models in the near future as well.
NY Says Shut Up and Drive by Joseph Szczesny (7/2/2001)

AMERICA SUPPORTS CELL-PHONE LAWSIn a poll released Monday by Gallup, some 70 percent of Americans believe lawmakers should outlaw the use of hand-held cell phones in cars, with 62 percent saying the use of vehicle phones should be made illegal, even those that are hands-free. The poll, of 1,000 interviewed by Gallup, was conducted between June 28 and July 1, and follows the decision of New York state legislators to severely limit the use of hand-held cell phones by drivers.


It's being referred to internally as the Terminator. And it's rumored to be Ford's way of saying to Chevrolet and Dodge that it too can play with the big boys--namely the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 and the Dodge Viper. The company's Special Vehicle Engineering group is planning on attaching a blower to an already tweaked version of the Mustang Cobra's 4.6-liter DOHC V-8 for an uber-Mustang meant to be the swan song for the old Fox platform pony car, in advance of an all-new Mustang in the 2004 model year.
Spy Shots: 2003 Mustang Terminator by Nick Twork (7/16/2001)


A lawsuit brought on by a rollover accident in a Ford Explorer--an accident in which two teenage girls were killed--has been settled for $22 million, the attornies involved said. The June 1992 accident happened on a Chicago freeway when the Explorer was hit by a smaller car on its left rear wheel well. The Ford in question was equipped with Michelin tires. "This is not a (tire) detreading case," Richard Burke, a lawyer for the families, told Reuters in an interview. "We think that (Explorer) model had too high a center of gravity. It had too narrow a track width. Those are the primary reasons that rendered it unstable."


As Volkswagen prepares to lose the Rolls-Royce brand to BMW, which will build a new range of Rollers south of London in Goodwood beginning in 2003, the brand has prepared a "Last of the Line" version of the current Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph sedan. The final Crewe-built Rolls will feature red badging, as all Rolls-Royce vehicles did prior to 1933, along with a small Union Jack. The special Seraph will retail for $229,000.


Subaru on Thursday announced a recall of some 180,000 Legacy vehicles for corrosion on the front springs. The problem afflicts vehicles made between 1995 and 1999, and has been traced to faulty paint produced by a supplier, the company says.The spring could corrode and break, causing damage to front tires. The recall only affects vehicles sold in states subject to winter weather (Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin). Owners will be notified for replacement parts.


The latest mini-film to debut on the BMW broadband ad site,www.bmwfilms.com, is Powder Keg, the fifth and final in a series. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, director of the Academy Award-nominated Amores Perros, tells the story of a driver who transports a photojournalist to safety. Other films in the series, including the knee-slapping turn by Madonna in Star, are available on the Web site.
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