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Car Sales Are Booming, and So Are the Prices

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

U.S. new car sales appear to have reached a six-year high as buyers raced back to showrooms in August – but that wasn't because consumers were getting great deals. 

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Usage Based Car Insurance Growing More Popular Despite Privacy Tradeoff

Monday, August 26, 2013

In an era of trying to save drivers money by improving gas mileage or developing lower-cost vehicles, there is another tack: usage-based car insurance where drivers may see double digit savings.

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NY Auto Show Opens, Debuts Dozens of New Models

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Images of the new 2014 Cadillac CTS have already begun to leak out ahead of its NY debut.

(Paul Eisenstein, The Detroit Bureau) The New York International Auto Show is the last of the big U.S. car shows before the industry takes a summer break and it takes on more significance than it has in years with at least two dozen new cars, trucks and crossovers scheduled to make their debut at the Jacob Javits convention center in the coming days.

Automakers are hoping that the timing of this year’s New York Auto Show coincides with the continuing revival of the U.S. automotive market. Sales surged at a double-digit pace last year and are echoing that growth so far in 2013. By some of the more optimistic forecasts, the market could jump from 14.5 million to as much as 15.5 million this year – though that is still below the record numbers of early in the new millennium, when Americans bought as many as 17 million new vehicles in a single year.

Industry analysts suggest that major car shows can deliver a surge of new momentum to the market, especially in the surrounding community – and metro New York is already one of the biggest automotive markets in the country.

The flood of new models rolling into Jacob Javits reflects, to some degree, the delays forced by the industry’s worst downturn since the Great Recession of the 1930s. Many makers had to postpone or slow the pace of development due to budget cuts. Others simply slowed things down to wait out a market revival rather than launch critical offerings at a time when consumers might not be interested.

The Chevrolet Corvette unleashed at the Detroit Auto Show in January was a good example, the launch of the seventh-generation 2014 “C7” Stingray delayed by two years due to the maker’s bankruptcy.

[Related: First Official Look: 2014 C7 Corvette Convertible]

According to the automotive data tracking service R.L. Polk, there will be 141 product launches this year, a 57 percent increase from 2012. (For more details on specific models, see full post here.)

Luxury brands dominate this year’s show, in fact, accounting for at least half of the debuts planned, depending on which brands you include. That’s no surprise considering the wealth of the NY region – it is, for example, the single-largest metro market for the new Range Rover model. Cadillac clearly is hoping to gain traction in the traditionally import-oriented Big Apple, a key reason for launching the new model in the city. 

For those on a budget, there are some more affordable new products on display, including the Kia Koup and the update for the Scion tC sports coupe. There are also some significant new family models, including the next-generation Toyota Highlander and Honda Odyssey minivan.

Reflecting recent trends, the NYIAS has slightly more new passenger cars than utility vehicles to tantalize potential buyers with. Sedans, coupes and even sports cars have been regaining some of their own momentum as fuel prices head upward.

That’s not to say the American fascination with utes is dead. They remain a major factor in U.S. sales – or at least more car-like crossovers  do. The number of traditional, truck-based offerings is steadily dwindling. Both the new Nissan Pathfinder and that Range Rover Sport, for example, have migrated to car-based “architectures” in their latest incarnations, as has the new Jeep Cherokee.

That old nameplate is making its return after a long absence from the market, the 2014 Cherokee replacing the aged and slow-selling Jeep Liberty.  Its distinctive design could make it one of the more controversial models at the New York Auto Show this year, even Jeep officials acknowledge.

[Related: First Drive: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Diesel]

While the SUV arm of Chrysler contends that the new Cherokee will retain its off-road capabilities, they also promote the fact that it will deliver significantly improved mileage. And while the 2013 NYIAS isn’t the greenest of auto shows, the environment is nonetheless an important topic for carmakers and car buyers alike.

There will be a handful of new battery-based models making their debut, starting with hybrid versions of two Nissan models, the recently redesigned Pathfinder and the QX60 from the maker’s Infiniti brand. Subaru, meanwhile, will unwrap its first-ever gas-electric model, the XV Crosstrek Hybrid. And Mercedes-Benz will roll out the first pure battery-electric vehicle, or BEV, targeted at the U.S. market. The Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive, in fact, will be the only version of that small people-mover sold in the States.

[Related: Mercedes Turning to Tesla for B-Class Battery Car]

Automakers are already teasing their NY introductions, even releasing images and details on a few models, like the 2014 Buick LaCrosse. There’ll be an assortment of sneak previews for the media on Tuesday evening and then the doors open on Wednesday morning at the Javits.

The public will have to wait a few days but close to a million potential buyers could stream into a city better known for mass transit in the weeks ahead to check out the auto industry’s latest offerings.

 

A longer version of this post originally appeared on The Detroit Bureau.

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Toyota Reaches $1 Billion Deal in Runaway Cars Case

Thursday, December 27, 2012

(photo by danielctw via flickr)

(Paul Eisenstein - The Detroit Bureau) Toyota Motor Co. has reached a more than $1 billion settlement intended to put an end to hundreds of lawsuits stemming from the maker’s problems with unintended acceleration. But Toyota still faces a separate series of lawsuits from those who claim to have been injured by runaway vehicles.

The proposed settlement specifically covers lawsuits filed by owners who alleged that the value of their cars, trucks and crossovers had plummeted substantially as a result of the crisis triggered by a series of revelations and recalls that eventually involved more than 14 million Toyota products worldwide.

The maker said it also will launch an extended warranty program covering 16 million current owners while also installing additional safety technology on 3.2 million of its vehicles. But in light of other recent recalls that have involved millions more Toyota products it remains unclear if the settlement will be enough to repair the Japanese giant’s once shining image.

[Related Story: Toyota Furia Concept Could be New Corolla]

“This agreement marks a significant step forward for our company, one that will enable us to put more of our energy, time and resources into Toyota’s central focus: making the best vehicles we can for our customers and doing everything we can to meet their needs,” said Christopher P. Reynolds, Group Vice President and General Counsel, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A, and Chief Legal Officer, Toyota Motor North America.

The deal must still receive the approval of U.S. District Judge James Selna, who has been overseeing hundreds of lawsuits that have been filed since late 2009 when the maker launched the first in a series of recalls related to unintended acceleration.

The first action involved loose carpets that could jam accelerator pedals making it difficult to slow a vehicle. A subsequent recall announced in early 2010 involved sticky accelerator assemblies. Toyota has since announced several other recalls related to unintended acceleration.

A pair of studies conducted for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration dismissed allegations that Toyota vehicles also suffered from defective engine control systems that could lead to unintended acceleration.  But the agency has nonetheless fined the Japanese maker repeatedly for failing to act upon a known safety defect in reasonable time, as required by law.

Earlier this month, Toyota agreed to pay a $17.35 million fine for delaying a recall involving loose floor carpets in its Lexus RX crossovers.  It paid $48.8 million in fines in 2010 for similar delays.

The maker has faced a variety of different lawsuits which were consolidated under the auspices of the U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, California.  The proposed settlement only involves those suits alleging that owners saw the value of their vehicles decline as a result of the unintended acceleration scare.

[Also at Detroit Bureau: After Decade-Long Decline, Highway Deaths Suddenly Surge]

A total of $250 million will be offered to those who sold or turned in a leased vehicle between September 2009 and December 2010, at the height of the scandal.

Another $250 million will be used to extend the warranty coverage on select vehicle components for owners and lessors of 16 million Toyota products and to retrofit 3.2 million vehicles with a brake override system.  That technology is intended to automatically reduce engine power when the brakes are touched, even if a driver inadvertently also applies the throttle.

The remaining funds will be used for safety research and driver education programs.

“We think (this) was a good settlement given the risks of this litigation,” Steve Berman, a lawyer representing Toyota owners, told the Associated Press.

It is not clear how much of the settlement, which Berman estimated at $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion, will go to plaintiffs attorneys. Toyota, meanwhile, said it would take a one-time charge against earnings of $1.1 billion.

[Also on Detroit Bureau: Car Thieves Offer a Reprieve on Xmas – But Watch Out New Year’s Eve]

As for those who claim to have been injured in unintended acceleration crashes – and those who are suing on behalf of deceased family members – that case is currently scheduled to see the first trial begin in February, barring any additional settlement.

Toyota appears to be hoping that it can defend itself by referring to findings of the two NHTSA studies, one conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, the other by NASA. Neither could find any proof that Toyota vehicles suffered from electronic gremlins – though the NASA study did leave open the possibility that such issues did exist but were difficult to trace.

During an emotional February 2010 hearing before Congress, Toyota President Akio Toyoda promised to step up efforts to ensure the safety of the company’s vehicles – and to increase the response time when problems are discovered.

The maker has pointed to its strong performance in recent quality and reliability surveys. But skeptics also note not only the latest fine for recall delays but the fact that Toyota has recalled millions more vehicles this year. That includes the maker’s largest recall ever due to faulty window switches that could catch fire.

But industry analysts say that the maker’s problems appear to have had relatively little impact on its sales.

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