And? Who amongst us didn't totally cram for that test? Anyway, the PR stat of the day comes from "The 2008 GMAC Insurance National Drivers Test" [via CNNMoney]. The gekko-less insurer extrapolated data from a survey of 5,524 drivers from across the USA to conclude that 16.4 percent (or some 33m) American drivers would fail a driver's test re-do. Their call center clones asked 20 questions from department of motor vehicle tests. Apparently, an [unrevealed] number of drivers didn't know what to do when approaching a yellow light (floor it?) or the safe following distance when you're behind another car (one car length per bumper sticker). Talking points: drivers over the age of 35 were more likely to pass; women were more likely to fail. Northeast drivers sucked even more than respondents in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. Kansas drivers rock! "It's encouraging to see that scores are beginning to get better," said GMAC Insurance's VP of marketing. "But there is still a lot of room for improvement." You can take some comfort in the fact that "nearly all of the test-takers knew how to respond to an emergency vehicle with flashing lights (get out of the way), what to do when hydroplaning (freeze), and how to interpret a solid yellow line (look for cops before passing)."
Posts By: Glenn Swanson
According to the (appropriately-named) SubPrime Auto Finance News, you can blame the cratering housing market for collapsing new-car sales. "Lower equity translates into an inability to borrow against the house to buy a car," opines Art Spinella of CNW Research. This is especially true in California and Florida, where new car buyers lead the league table for tapping into their home equity to finance a new whip. As of six months ago, California's supply of unsold new houses was running in excess of 80 months. Spinella reckons the Golden State's (and thus America's) auto sales recovery depends on reducing the staggering inventory of unsold new homes. So, Art, when? "Probably not until the final quarter of this year or the first quarter of next, but in either case a California turnaround will benefit all auto sales in 2009." Meanwhile, the number of homeowners who are "upside down" on their home loans is adding more fuel to the pyre. In fact, some 68 percent of those who bought homes in 2005 owe more than the house is worth. Ouch.
Who woulda thunk it? Due to their high gas mileage, old Geo Metros are sought-after cars. Laugh if you want, but "Marci Solomon is hoping she'll be the one laughing- all the way to the bank -when her Geo Metro saves her from skyrocketing gas prices," according to CNN. Solomon has a 100-mile commute to work and her Honda Element was getting 28MPG, causing her to fill up twice a week at a cost of almost $100. So she began searching for an alternative and initially "toyed with the idea of purchasing a Prius," until she "rediscovered" old Geo Metros for sale on eBay. She focused on a 1996 two-door, three-cylinder, which opened with a $200 bid, and eventually "won it" with her winning bid of $7,300! Her ‘96 Metro's "average of 40 miles per gallon approaches that of a new Toyota Prius," and "bests most current cars by a long shot." Solomon says "I used to be a car snob, and I used to be too vain to drive anything that doesn't shine; but now it's about, ‘do I want to eat, or do I want to make it to work?' I want to do both." Even though she paid "more than five times the Blue Book value of the car," Solomon figures it's "an investment in the future." "It was all about saving money," she says. Indeed: Solomon has acquired another Metro, is "considering flipping [it] on eBay for profit," and "has her eye on a third at a local car lot." You go girl!
While some people remain relaxed about the price of gas, few will take comfort in the fact that the price of a barrel of oil reached $129 for the first time this morning. According to the AP [via CNNMoney], even after Saudi Arabia promised to pump an additional 300k barrels of crude oil a day, the price spike continues over "concern about global supply." Energy trader Nauman Barakat says he's seen "no news that would have caused the jump," but notes that strong demand for distillates used to make diesel (and heating oil), have been pushing up the price for those fuels. As for "Big Oil," Steve Austin at oil-price.net says governments in oil-producing countries "are demanding higher prices from oil conglomerates for tapping into their onshore reserves and sometimes even excluding them in favor of domestic expertise." Despite the large profits reported by Big Oil, Steve figures things look bleak for Big Oil. "In the 1970s, 80% of the world oil reserves were controlled by Big Oil companies, but now those numbers are reversed, with local government-owned oil companies holding 80% to 94% of the block." Steve's bottom line: "Clearly Big Oil's business model is due for a revision." After reaching the record high of $129.31 earlier this morning, the current price of oil (as of this writing) is $128.42… and rising.
The AP [via The Auto Channel] reports that Nissan is teaming-up with electronics giant NEC to mass produce lithium-ion batteries for the "next-generation of green cars." The Automotive Energy Supply Corporation is charged with making advanced li-ions for electric vehicles, hybrids and fuel cell thingamabobs. The plant should be up and running by 2009, producing 13k batteries annually. Eventually, AESC hopes to crank-out 65k batteries per year. Nissan's Executive VP Carlos Tavares says the Franco-tinged Japanese automaker wants to be a global leader in zero-emission vehicles. (Hey, who doesn't?) The man whose last name reminds us of the song "That's the sound the loneliness makes" insists that Nissan will introduce an electric vehicle in the U.S. and Japan, as well as its own hybrid, in 2010 [yes, there's that date again]. Nissan also plans to produce a zero-emission vehicles in Israel and Denmark by 2011, and market electric vehicles on a global scale by the year 2012. We would like to take this moment to remind Nissan of "Crazy" Henry Ford's maxim "you can't build a reputation on what you are going to do." Thank you.
According to The Star [via Wheels.ca], Canadian new-car sales rose a bit over nine percent vs. the previous financial quarter. This represents the strongest single-quarter sales gain since way back in the middle of 1998. Analysts attribute the growth to lower prices, incentives and a one percent reduction in the goods-and-services tax (GST). The largest gains (17.8 percent) came from sales of passenger cars. Meanwhile, driving.ca reports on April sales, noting that GM's share of the Canadian pie slipped 13.5 percent. GM said "the drop was a planned reduction in low-profit sales to daily rental fleets." The company spun the news by pointing out that retail sales of The General's passenger cars went up by 23.8 percent in the month of April. Anyway, Ford's Canadian sales slipped by 4.5 percent last month. Winners include Chrysler, up eight percent in April, thanks to a 38 percent increase in the number of minivans driving off the lots. Chrysler Canada adds that it enjoyed its 21st consecutive increase in monthly sales, noting that (just like GM), the company deliberately cut back on fleet sales. Not bad, eh?
According to the AP [via Yahoo News!], Panasonic Japan is offering a new in-car navigation system that interfaces with internet-capable mobile phones, that allows drivers to surf their favorite porn sites. Just kidding. They can use it to check-up on their homes. The "Strada F-Class" system– which sounds like a Chinese knock-off of an Alfa-Mercedes– can keep an eye on pets (I'm sorry Rover, I'm afraid you can't do that), turn lights on and off (to freak out the neighbors), adjust the A/C ('cause a thermostat just isn't web 2.0 enough) and lock the front door (cause you remembered that you forgot). Of course, all this "convenience" comes at a cost: $3.4k. While you could just use your cell to communicate with a "web-enabled" home, Panasonic claims their "Strada F-Class" system is way safer. Oh, and user-san must have a web-enabled camera and front door, along with other plug-in shit. For some reason, Panasonic is hoping to sell 8k of Strada F-Classes each month to early adopters. The line forms on June 13. While we're one with Stevie Wonder on that whole superstition thing, we'd like to point out that the 13th of June falls on a Friday. Just sayin'.
According to the AP [via Yahoo! News], the diminutive 2008 smart fortwo received an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rating of "good" in both front- and side-impact testing. It's the IIHS' highest rating. However, the IIHS pointed out that "the front-end test scores can't be compared across weight classes, meaning a small car that earns a good rating isn't considered safer than a large car that did not earn the highest rating." Still, "all things being equal in safety, bigger and heavier is always better," says IIHS president, Adrian Lund. Meanwhile, U.S. government crash tests gave the fortwo five stars in side-crash testing, BUT the driver door unlatched and opened. Government regulators say the incident requires them to note a "safety concern," which will appear on the cars' window stickers. More than 6.1k smart cars have been sold in the U.S. through April 2008. "America has never seen a car this size before and their first question usually isn't about (fuel) economy, it's about safety," says the president of smart USA, Dave Schembri. "And that's why we think these results are so very important." So now you know: the clown car is a safe ride. As long as you stay out of the way of Tahoes and Expeditions.
Unless you're the fastidious type, you might want to avoid driving in Melissa. WFAA reports that police in the Texas town pulled over one Mark Robinson for failure to use his turn signal. The police officer then hauled the 24-year-old to jail where "he was booked, strip searched, and sat for 3 hours." Robinson found himself sitting next to
Bubba other dangerous criminals. "They asked me what I was in there for and I said a turn signal violation." Robinson had a clean (to that point) rap sheet and claimed he'd never been jailed before (yeah? what about that faulty taillight thing?). However, Robison does admit that he "challenged" the officer's questions when he was stopped. Still, Melissa's police chief was aghast. "In the 6 years I've been the police chief, this is the first time," says Chief Duane Smith. But he stands behind his officer. "I'm not going to let some little out-of-town asshole punk kid mouth off to my officer. He's lucky I didn't beat the shit out of him." No, I'm kidding. I just made that up. As far as I know.
The AP (via NPR) reports that Ford plans to put six-speed automatic transmissions (AT) into 98 percent of its North American vehicles by 2012. Ford's seductively-named "6F35" transmission is the technological fruit of a $720m joint development effort between Ford and GM. Ford claims the new automatics– debuting in the ‘09 Escape and Mercury and Lincoln clones– offer four to six percent better fuel economy than their current four- and five-speed equivalents. Craig Renneker, Ford's chief engineer for the slushboxes, admits that "these technologies are all about fuel economy." No, wait! Ford VP Barb Samardzich is a bit more PR-savvy: "They also deliver improved acceleration and smoother shifting," she adds.
Anyway, you can thank the 35mpg fleet average CAFÉ standards for the additional cog. "With today's high gas prices, the decision to deploy these across virtually
the entire Ford lineup comes at a good time."
According to The Economic Times, your local Audi will be singing the car body electric 2018. In fact, Audi chairman of the board Rupert Stadler says he expects diesel and battery technology "to dominate" automotive propulsion in the next five to ten years. "By then we will offer cars without exhaust emissions," Stadler promised, revealing his evil plan to transfer all the carbon burning stuff to power plants. When asked if he felt Audi was "falling behind" rivals Mercedes and BMW in the whole lithium-ion battery-powered hybrid thing, Stadler claimed Audi has a greater [flux] capacity for research than its German competitors. So… Stadler claimed "electric cars offer great opportunities, which we have already seized on." Ooooh. We LIKE hints. But then we're not stock manipulators.
Last October, we brought you the news that the United Auto Workers (UAW) was attempting to organize a union vote at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. As a part of an effort to broaden their base in the face of declining membership in the automotive industry, the UAW was hoping to organize the casino’s 3k dealers. Well, in November, the dealers dealt Foxwoods management (i.e. the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe) a new hand by voting in favor of representation by the UAW. Soon after, Foxwoods sought to overturn the results of the voting, but a Connecticut judge rejected that appeal. Now The Hartford Courant reports some 300 workers (mostly engineering types and interior landscapers) have voted against joining the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE). As with casino gambling, sometimes you win, and sometimes (okay, most of the time) you lose.
Kia wants to cut back on its reliance on ye olde cash on the hood and increase its brand awareness in the U.S. To that end, the Korean automaker is launching a new ad campaign today that "continues to emphasize the thriftiness of its product line in times of escalating gas and food prices." BrandWeek reports that one ad shows a Kia Spectra in front of a gas station while a narrator proclaims: "Now, more than ever, you want to get the most for your money." And an ad for the Kia Sportage claims the CUV is priced "about $6,000 less than the Toyota Rav4 Limited; or, to put it another way, a whole year worth of groceries less." Kia's marketing director is suitably upbeat about the downbeat American economy. "It's not all doom and gloom; in fact we believe the opposite," says Tim Chaney. "People are still shopping for cars, albeit less than before, and we are in a good spot." Chaney took over as marketing maven back in February when his predecessor, along with CEO Len Hunt, "were let go." Time will tell if this new team can pull Kia's image out of the background noise.
Last year, the Canadian government initiated an "aggressive push" to produce fuel from crops. The 2007 federal budget included a C$2.2b support package for biofuels. According to a report in the Globe and Mail, "political consensus in favor of biofuels is suddenly breaking down." Member of Parliament (MP) Keith Martin thinks it's time to step back and "put a moratorium on it now so people can actually wrap their heads around the facts; the current biofuel strategy is deeply misguided." The president of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association claims "the issues that come up have nothing to do with food supply." Gord Quaiattin says concerned Canadian should blame rising oil prices for food costs. "Everybody's screaming about 'food for fuel'; it's too bad we can't have a rational debate in this country," sighs MP David McGuinty. Still, it may be too late to shut the door: the government has poured billions into a biofuel facilities fund. Fourteen plants are running already and six more being built- so this horse may have already left the barn.
According to Reuters UK, Sony's senior producer for Gran Turismo has revealed that Japanese consumer electronics giant has changed the videogame's, uh, emphasis. Taku Imasaki says "Our goal is to become another medium for car companies [to run ads], like magazines and TVs." The admission comes hot on the heels of a "teaser installment" of "Gran Turismo 5 Prologue," for PS3 (the full version of the driving simulator is due next year). Embedding automakers' ads into the game is just the beginning. Imasaki-san says "Ideally we could become the MySpace or Facebook for auto enthusiasts." As Sony's PS3 is fully net compatible, the commercial opportunities are endless (e.g. "click here for a real world test drive."). There's no word [yet] on more "subtle" if fast becoming "traditional" in-game advertising– background billboards, sponsor decals, architectural features (gas stations?). It appears that some of the world's best cars are already powering down that slippery slope.