TOPS POWER; GM JUMPS
J.D. Power & Associates has issued its closely watched and widely quoted Initial Quality Survey for 2002 — and results indicate that not only are buyers getting rebates these days, they are also getting better cars. The overall quality of vehicles jumped 10 percent in this year's survey, which is based on the first impressions of more than 65,000 new-car buyers who have had their vehicles at least 90 days. As in years past, Toyota Motor Corp., which has written the industry's book on building quality vehicles, again came out on top of the survey, scoring the best marks ever recorded by the Westlake Village, Calif., marketing information firm. But the survey also offered grounds for serious bragging by General Motors Corp., which climbed into third place. It was the highest ranking ever for an American automaker in the survey, which helped define the quality gap between American and Japanese cars back in the 1980s.
Toyota, Honda, GM Top Power by Joseph Szczesny (5/30/2002)
ALL CARS “GOOD”
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety doesn’t have much bad to say about its latest crash-test results. For the first time, each of a group of vehicles tested by the insurance industry-funded group scored a “good” rating. The vehicles — The 2002 Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Acura TL, Hyundai XG300/XG350, Lexus ES300, Lexus IS300, Saab 9-5, Volvo S60 and Jaguar X-Type — were crashed into an offset barrier at 40 mph, a test more severe than the Feds’ 35-mph frontal impact but similar to those performed in Europe, Australia and Japan. "This set of results demonstrates the effectiveness of consumer safety information in improving crashworthiness," said Institute president Brian O'Neill in a release. The IIHS credits better structural design and more careful consideration of impact dynamics.
Family Matters: Teen Cars by Carol Traeger (4/15/2002)
MID-SIZE BUMPERS NOT GOOD
The bumpers on mid-size sedans aren’t that well designed, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and the bumpers five out of nine vehicles tested fared rather poorly. The IIHS, an information group funded by major auto insurers, says the 2002 Lexus ES 300 and Toyota Camry were the best of nine vehicles in a recent test, and suffered only minor damage in a 5-mph bumper collision. The 2002 Nissan Altima and Acura TL took a bigger hit — and the Jaguar X-Type, Saab 9-5, Lexus IS 300, Volvo S60, and Hyundai XG350 – all sustained what the IIHS considers “excessive” damage. The X-Type fared the worst, suffering an average of $1700 of damage.
FREE TO CHOOSE TIRE PRESSURE MONITORS
Automakers have won over the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) when it comes to tire-pressure monitors. In the wake of the Firestone recalls of 2000, the NHTSA decided that carmakers would have to include the monitoring systems in new vehicles built after November 2003. At first, the NHTSA demanded automakers use a more expensive system with individual pressure sensors at each tire; now the agency says carmakers can also use systems that rely on data generated by anti-lock brake sensors to tell whether a tire is deflating. After three years, the NHTSA will decide which if either system is superior. Automakers must install the systems in 10 percent of all vehicles in the first year, 35 percent in the second year, 65 percent in the third year, and then in all vehicles after a final ruling on systems is made.
COULD FAIL TESTS
In addition to the monitoring systems, the NHTSA is also calling for more stringent tire testing that it says might fail up to a third of the tires built and sold today. One of the tests, Reuters reports, would run under-inflated tires for 90 minutes up to 99 mph, to determine failure rates; another would double the length of tire endurance tests. NHTSA estimates that some 414 deaths a year might be linked to failing tires, and says that a third of tires produced could fail the new tests, based on limited samples.
IMPALA SS THUNDERS BACK
Enthusiast weekly AutoWeek says Chevrolet will revive the Impala SS nameplate next year. The Impala SS, last built in 1996 on the rear-drive Caprice chassis, will become a 240-hp front-driver with GM’s supercharged 3.8-liter V-6 under the hood. The hotted-up ’04 Impala SS is said to be rejoining the lineup in the middle of next year; coincidentally, GM has announced plans to increase production at the Oshawa, Ont., factory that builds the Impala by 100,000 units.
GM Boosting Build in Mich., Ont. by Joseph Szczesny (4/8/2002)
SHOWS MOST POWERFUL GOLF EVER
The Madrid Auto Show usually gets all the press it deserves: virtually none. But this year VW used the Spanish event to sneakily introduce the new Golf R32 -- the most powerful and tantalizing Golf yet. Powered by a new 3.2-liter version of the VR6 narrow angle V-6 making 241 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of peak torque at 2800 rpm, the two-door R32 hardly needs a six-speed transmission, but gets one anyhow. And that trans feeds VW's 4Motion all-wheel drive system. Further, the suspension has been lowered about an inch, and the R32 gets P225/40ZR18 tires on lightweight wheels just outboard of oversize four-wheel disc brakes with blue-painted calipers. As the most extravagant Golf ever, the R32 also gets a lot of leather and aluminum trim on the inside and its own body kit on the outside, with dual polished exhaust tips. Price? More than any other new Golf ever. The R32 is scheduled to go on sale this summer in Europe, and there's been no announcement about plans for North America. — John Pearley Huffman
RANCH GETS A RESHOOT
Those finned Caddies stuck in the ground outside Amarillo, Tex., are getting a long-needed repainting. The 1974 “Cadillac Ranch” art installation, which is basically 10 classic Caddies buried nose-first into the Texas firmament, will be restored with the help of a fleet of Hampton Inn hotel workers. Hampton’s Save-A-Landmark Program will work alongside the original artists to re-tire, scrub, prime and re-paint the famous row of classic cars.
RECALLING 400,000 WINDSTARS
Ford is recalling 413,042 Windstar minivans for possible fire hazards. The 2000 and 2001 model-year vans may be missing a body sealant that could lead to short circuits, and possibly corrosion and fire in an electrical connector. A Ford spokesman told Reuters that eight incidents are linked to the problem, but no injuries or accidents.