The Truth About Cars » History http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 14 Jul 2014 16:00:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » History http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/news-blog/history-news-blog/ BMW’s Southern Strategy Pays Off For All Involved http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/bmws-southern-strategy-pays-off-for-all-involved/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/bmws-southern-strategy-pays-off-for-all-involved/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 11:00:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=865729 BMW Spartanburg

Twenty years ago, BMW began building vehicles at its first North American factory in Spartanburg, S.C., a move that has paid off well for the German automaker, both against its rivals Mercedes and Audi, and as an example for the industry as a whole.

Bloomberg reports the factory is the largest exporter of U.S.-made vehicles to global markets outside of North America, besting the Detroit Three and the state of Michigan’s collective automotive production efforts as its capacity prepares to jump 50 percent to 450,000 annually as the latest member of the X Series, the full-size seven-passenger X7, comes into production.

The success of the Spartanburg facility is built upon lower labor costs — U.S. labor is 47 percent cheaper than German labor — its work flexibility, and its access to the port of Charleston, I-85 and GSP International Airport. An additional inland port in Greer, S.C., new production techniques — such as using robots and humans on the same assembly step — and massive export increases as the result of an upcoming free-trade agreement between the United States and the European Union will likely add more fuel to the plant’s continued success.

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GM Korea Workers Vote To Strike Amid Stalling Negotiations http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/gm-korea-workers-vote-to-strike-amid-stalling-negotiations/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/gm-korea-workers-vote-to-strike-amid-stalling-negotiations/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 13:00:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=862969 gm-korea-facility

Amid stalling wage and production negotiations between GM Korea and its workers, the latter have voted to strike.

Reuters reports 69 percent of the 14,016-strong workforce voted to put down their tools and walk out for the fourth consecutive year unless a deal is reached between the workers’ union and management over a change in GM Korea’s 60-year-old wage scheme along with a production increase. A representative for the union claimed that “both sides remain committed to reaching a fair and reasonable labour agreement based on mutual trust and understanding,” however.

The demands come on the heels of a 2013 ruling by South Korea’s supreme court proclaiming fixed bonuses should be considered as part of a worker’s base wage. If successful, GM Korea’s workers would see an increase in overtime and severance pay among other statutory benefits, all adjusted accordingly in proportion to base pay.

Meanwhile, the subsidiary’s CEO, Sergio Rocha, warned that if a strike were to occur, the action would threaten both production and job security, and urged his employees to step away from the abyss before all is lost.

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Ford: Automotive Industry Must Prepare To Rethink Transportation http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/ford-automotive-industry-must-prepare-to-rethink-transportation/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/ford-automotive-industry-must-prepare-to-rethink-transportation/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 13:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=862177 Bill Ford in Turkey

Sharing the pages of The Wall Street Journal’s 125th Anniversary issue with the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Summers and Taylor Swift, Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford, Jr. sees a future for the automotive industry so bright, he’ll need to wear shades.

The chairman wrote in his op-ed for the paper that the automobile will become “part of a larger ecosystem,” and the industry must act accordingly. He explains that this challenge “represents a $130 billion business opportunity” to develop solutions to growing transportation concerns, such as a vehicle’s interactions with a city’s multi-modal infrastructure as a result of more people moving back into cities.

Ford also believes ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft are signalling a shift from individual ownership, going as far as to proclaim the practice “may not be the primary model of vehicle ownership in the future.” He adds that future vehicles will be heavily connected with each other for high optimization of his future transportation ecosystem, noting the early phases of the connected car are already in existence.

Finally, the chairman states driving itself will need to be redefined thanks to autonomous vehicles taking the wheel — or lack thereof, in Google’s case — from the driver in more and more situations. In turn, drivers who would have handed over their keys in their twilight years would now have more time and greater mobility through autonomous technologies, as well as those with physical disabilities.

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Porsche Developing Ferrari-Hunter With 600HP Flat-Eight http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/porsche-developing-ferrari-hunter-with-600hp-flat-eight/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/porsche-developing-ferrari-hunter-with-600hp-flat-eight/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 10:00:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=862113 Porsche-988-rumors

Feeling outgunned by the Ferrari V8 family, Porsche is working on a suitable hunter that will be armed not with its long-standing flat-six, but with a new flat-eight.

Autocar reports the new vehicle — dubbed the 988 within Stuttgart — is part of a new quartet of Porsches in development, including a turbo-four version of the Boxster and Cayman, and an all-new 911. The 988 is expected to arrive in 2017, and may likely take after the 918 in looks with a long rear deck covering the mid-mounted flat-eight; all four new models will be in place by 2019.

Powering the quartet is a new family of boxers, ranging from the aforementioned 2-liter turbo-four — capable of 280 horsepower — to the 988′s 4-liter quad-turbo-eight, delivering 600 horses and ~400 lb-ft of 458 Italia-killing torque in testing.

Underpinning the quartets will be an all-new architecture that will use different backsides depending on the position of the boxer, shared front structures, and three front axles with optional hybrid/electric AWD such as the system powering the 918.

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General Motors Digest: July 8, 2014 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/general-motors-digest-july-8-2014/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/general-motors-digest-july-8-2014/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 13:00:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=861585 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In today’s General Motors Digest: Replacement ignition switches are shipping to dealership service bays in boxes that may not reflect the contents inside; GM hands over 2 million documents to the United States House of Representatives; and certain truck owners are on their own as far as rusty brake lines are concerned.

Automotive News reports in a June 24, 2014 memo by the automaker to its 4,300-strong dealership network, GM would be shipping the ignition switches related to the February 2014 recalls in ACDelco boxes “due to the unprecedented volume of parts being shipped and the resulting shortage of GM Parts boxes.” The memo was composed to allay doubts of authenticity that might arise when the shipments arrive. As of June 25, 2014, 296,462 of the 2.6 million vehicles affected by the recall have been repaired, while GM expects to have the parts ready for the majority of the affected by October.

Over in the Beltway, The Detroit News says the automaker has turned over 2 million pages of records in relation to the February 2014 recall to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee as part of the latter’s ongoing investigation. Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, who is in the early stages of planning an auto safety overhaul bill, states that he wants to wrap up the investigation prior to making such a bill available for consideration. In an interview with WJR-AM, Upton is considering a national registry to easily track recalled vehicles in the repair stage, as well as when affected vehicles pass into the used car market.

Finally, Bloomberg reports that while General Motors has issued recalls left and right, it has not done so with 1.8 million light trucks and SUVs made between 1999 and 2003 affected by rusting brake lines. Further, the automaker says it’s the owner’s responsibility to prevent rusting and, if need be, replace the lines with a $500 MSRP kit. The defect has hit Salt Belt owners the hardest, where failed brake lines make up 43 out of 100,000 units sold, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Mercedes: Maybach Trim To Potentially Grace GL-Class http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/mercedes-maybach-trim-to-potentially-grace-gl-class/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/mercedes-maybach-trim-to-potentially-grace-gl-class/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 10:00:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=861473 2013-Mercedes-Benz-GL450-4MATIC-main_rdax_646x396

Not content with only the S-Class receiving the Maybach treatment for a potential shout-out in Lorde’s next jam, Mercedes-Benz wants to take the Maybach trim line to the next level: The GL-Class.

Motoring.com.au reports the automaker wants to give a super-luxury makeover to the seven-passenger premium SUV as it seeks to make Maybach to luxury what AMG is to performance. Should this indeed follow the upcoming S-Class by Maybach — based upon the two-row W222 sedan over the three-row pullman at the top of the class — the GL will retain its architecture while receiving styling tweaks and S-Class technology, such as semi-active suspension with body-roll control.

Mercedes board member in charge of research and development, Dr. Thomas Weber, sees potential in the growing super-luxury SUV segment — led by the likes of Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini — for his employer to mount its own offensive, opining that it’s only a matter of “how fast and how parallel” Mercedes can bring the GL-Class by Maybach into production.

As for where the new SUV would turn up, the Middle East, Russia and the United States are among the key markets up for consideration.

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Honda’s Not the First Car Company to Make an Airplane: The Ford TriMotor http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/hondas-not-the-first-car-company-to-make-an-airplane-the-ford-trimotor/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/hondas-not-the-first-car-company-to-make-an-airplane-the-ford-trimotor/#comments Sun, 06 Jul 2014 14:00:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=858465 IMG_0209

Full gallery here.

Since this isn’t The Truth About Airplanes or even Planelopnik, we don’t generally cover aviation here at TTAC, either general or commercial (sorry about that pun). However, Honda announced that last week the first production HondaJet took its maiden test flight, near Honda Aircraft’s Greensboro, NC headquarters, and Honda does, after all, make and sell a few cars too. They aren’t the first car company, though, to get into the airplane business. As a matter of fact an earlier automaker had a seminal role in the development of commercial passenger aviation and even took a flier (sorry again, couldn’t resist) at general aviation, though that experiment was less successful. I don’t know if Soichiro Honda’s ever envisioned his motor company making jet airplanes, but since one of Soichiro’s role models, Henry Ford, helped get passenger aviation off the ground (okay, the last time, I promise) it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the thought may have crossed Mr. Honda’s mind.

You may have heard, or even seen Howard Hughes’ famous and enormous World War Two era wooden airplane nicknamed The Spruce Goose. That nickname was taken from “The Tin Goose”, the popular name for the Ford Trimotor airplane (also known as the Tri-Motor), produced by Henry Ford’s company from 1925 to 1933. It wasn’t made of tin, by the way, but rather was one of the first uses of aluminum in airplane construction. Intended for the civil aviation market, most of the 199 Trimotors that were produced carried passengers or cargo, but the plane was used all over the world for a variety of purposes, including by some countries’ militaries. One Trimotor, the one in these photographs, in the collection of the Henry Ford Museum and on display there, was used by Admiral Byrd in his expedition to fly over the South Pole.

The Ford Trimotor most likely came about because of Edsel Ford’s interest in aviation. When Edsel was just 15 years old, a year after the Model T went into production in 1908 he persuaded his father to loan him three Ford workers to help him and a friend build an experimental monoplane powered by a Model T engine. Henry had encouraged Edsel’s mechanical interests, even building him a full machine shop above the carriage house at the family’s mansion in Detroit’s Boston-Edison district. It should be noted the the Fords built that 10,000 square foot house before the Model T was ever made. The success of the Model N and Model S Fords had already made Henry Ford a wealthy man before the T became a phenomenon that changed the world. Henry alternately doted on his only son and, worried that he would grow to be the soft, effete son of a rich man, humiliated him in front of others to ‘toughen him up’. He gave Edsel great power at the family company, but limited autonomy. The senior Ford, whom I believe was not a particularly good business manager and who was an even worse manager of people, relied heavily in terms of operational management of Ford Motor Company on James Couzens and his son Edsel. Both men chafed at their overbearing employer. Couzens, though, had a choice in the matter.

James Couzens was one of Henry Ford’s earliest employees. He also invested $10,000 in the new Ford Motor Company. Few of Henry’s business associates stayed with him for their entire careers and it was after Couzens and his wife had returned to Detroit from a trip to New York City that Ford’s longtime business manager finally had enough of Henry’s ways. Couzens and his wife had spent a night out on the town in Manhattan, taking in a play and eventually getting a room at a swanky hotel. However, when Couzens got back to Dearborn he was called onto the carpet by Ford, accused of stepping out on his wife. Henry, who had a long and quite possible fecund relationshp with a young Ford employee named Evangeline Dahlinger, had another standard for his employees, and it seems that one of Harry Bennett’s spies didn’t recognize Mrs. Couzens. Irate, and by then a very wealthy man in his own right from dividends on the Ford stock he owned, Couzens quit. Later, after stockholder lawsuits over unpaid dividends and a threat by Henry to start a new car company to compete with Ford Motor Co., Ford paid Couzens something like $29 million dollars in 1919 for that initial investment of $10,000.

Edsel Ford ended up far wealthier than James Couzens but he paid a high price for that wealth and unlike Couzens there was no way that he could leave the family company. Despite their sometimes strained relationship, based upon his behavior one would have to say that Edsel loved his father. Loving a difficult parent can create stress, not to mention the stress from running a large company. The younger Ford developed stomach ulcers. His immediate family is said to have blamed Henry for Edsel’s poor health. In 1942, when undergoing surgery to repair an ulcer, doctors discovered that Edsel had rapidly metastasizing stomach cancer. He also apparently contracted undulant fever from drinking unpasteurized milk produced at the Ford Farms in Greenfield Village. Edsel Ford died in 1943 at age 49.

Two decades earlier, Edsel was one of the early investors in the Stout Metal Airplane Company. In the early 1920s, most airplanes were still relatively small aircraft built with coated fabric laid over wooden or metal frameworks. William Bushnell Stout was an aeronautical engineer who had embraced many of the principles of Hugo Junkers, the German aircraft pioneer. He had had some limited success building airplanes for the American military starting during World War One. He was an early advocate of building aircraft using duraluminum, a copper and magnesium alloy of aluminum that was age-hardenable.  Stout was also a pretty savvy salesman. He sent out mimeographed letters to 100 leading business men, asking them each to invest $1,000 in his new venture. In his letter, he breezily said, “For your one thousand dollars you will get one definite promise: You will never get your money back.” It must have worked because Edsel invested and convinced his father to go in on the Stout company as well. It’s not clear how much money Stout raised. One source says $20,000, while another say it was a bit more substantial, $128,000.

However much the initial investment was, by 1924, the Ford Airport, one of the world’s first modern airports, was operating in Dearborn, in part to serve the growing business aviation needs of FoMoCo in addition to Ford’s interest in manufacturing airplanes. Once the Trimotor was in production, Ford would take out advertisements in national magazines encouraging local municipalities to build airports as a sign of their modernity and forward thinking. In 1925 the Stout company was made a subsidiary of Ford Motor Company. Stout’s original single engine design with the wing mounted above the fuselage and made with a stressed skin of corrugated aluminum over an aluminum frame was modified to take three Curtiss-Wright radial air-cooled engines and named the Stout 3-AT. It’s possible that Stout was a better salesman than an airplane designer because while the prototype flew, it didn’t fly well. A well-timed and fortuitous fire apparently then destroyed the prototype. By then Stout had a team of engineers to work with and subsequently the far more successful 4-AT and 5-AT production models were developed. The production 4-AT Trimotor was 50 feet long with a 76 foot wingspan. It weighed just 6,500 lbs empty and had a top speed of 114 mph.

While the Trimotor was not the first all-metal airplane, it was considered to be one of the most advanced aircraft of its day. Stout used a fuselage and wing design originated by Junkers. Some of those Junkers planes were exported from Germany to the U.S. and Stout was undoubtedly also influenced by their use of corrugated aluminum as a skin. The added stiffness caused by the corrugations was considered worth the increased aerodynamic drag. That Stout borrowed Junkers designs was attested to by the fact that Junkers successfully sued Ford when the American company tried to export the Trimotor to Europe. Ford tried to countersue but a Czech court ruled that the Ford designs indeed infringed on Junkers’ patents.

The 4-AT Ford Trimotor carried a crew of three, a pilot, co-pilot and a stewardess, along with as many as nine passengers. The seats were simple and could be removed for cargo runs. The entire body of the plane, including the control surfaces was made of the ruffled aluminum. Many other aircraft continued to use fabric covered rudders, elevators and ailerons into the World War Two era. The controls surfaces were activated by cables that ran to lever arms located outside the plane near the cockpit. Interestingly, the engine instrumentation was also outside the cockpit, mounted directly on the engines but so the pilot could see them through the cockpit windshield.

A total of 86 4-AT Trimotors were produced. Specifications and performance of the slightly larger and significantly faster 5-AT Trimotor were as follows:

Crew: three (one Flight attendant)
Capacity: 10 passengers
Cost: $42,000 in 1933
Length: 50 ft 3 in (15.32 m)
Wingspan: 77 ft 10 in (23.72 m)
Height: 12 ft 8 in (3.86 m)
Wing area: 835 ft² (77.6 m²)
Empty weight: 7,840 lb (3,560 kg)
Loaded weight: 10,130 lb (4,590 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 13,500 lb (6,120 kg)
Powerplant: 3 × Pratt & Whitney Wasp C 9-cylinder radial engines, 420 hp (313 kW) each
Maximum speed: 150 mph (241 km/h, 130 kts)
Cruise speed: 90 mph (145 km/h, 78 kts)
Stall speed: 64 mph (103 km/h, 56 kts)
Range: 550 mi (885 km, 478 nm)
Service ceiling: 18,500 ft (5,640 m)
Rate of climb: 1050 ft/min (5.334 m/s)
Wing loading: 16.17 lb/ft² (78.87 kg/m²)
Power/mass: 10.71 lb/hp (6.52 kg/kW)

Henry and Edsel Ford and a Ford Trimotor, 1930. Photo likely taken at Ford Airport, Dearborn.

Henry and Edsel Ford and a Ford Trimotor, 1930. Photo likely taken at Ford Airport, Dearborn.

Though he likely had very little role in its design, the Ford Trimotor expressed many of Henry Ford’s core ideas that could be seen in the Model T and in the Fordson tractors. It was well-designed, reliable, and relatively inexpensive to build and to buy. In 1928, a Ford Trimotor cost $42,000, the equivalent of 84 Model A Tudors that year. The rigid metal structure and simple control systems gave the Trimotor a reputation for being able to take some abuse and like the Model T, it could be serviced and repaired almost anywhere that a pilot might land it. For bush and marine pilots, the Trimotor could have skis or pontoon floats fitted.

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Though there were passenger planes before the Ford Trimotor, it made a significant impact on the then young commercial aviation industry. When introduced it was considered a major advance over other early passenger airliners. It was reliable so the planes arrived on schedule and it was comfortable enough so that when they arrived, passenger felt it was worth the fare. Well over 100 airlines around the world eventually used the Trimotor. Soon after the Trimotor’s introduction, an airline, Transcontinental Air Transport was founded specifically to used the Trimotor to provide coast-to-coast service, though passengers had to rely on rail connections for parts of the trip. A year later, Transcontinental would merge with another young airline, Western Air Service to create TWA. Pan American Airways, later PanAm, started flights from Key West to Havana, eventually adding service to Central and South America by the early 1930s. Many of the 80 small carriers that merged to form what was to become American Airlines also operated Ford Trimotors.

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By the late 1920s, what by then was called the Ford Aircraft Division was considered to be the largest commercial airplane manufacturer in the world. Henry Ford even looked into producing a single seat “commuter” plane, a Model T of the air, if you will, called the Ford Flivver, a plane that would contribute to Ford withdrawing from the airplane business. I hope to cover the Flivver in a subsequent post, but for now I’ll just say that only two pilots flew the plane. Charles Lindbergh, a personal friend of Henry Ford, said it was the worst plane he ever flew. The other pilot was Henry Ford’s personal pilot, Harry Brooks, who was killed when his Flivver crashed into the ocean on a test flight, his body never recovered. Brooks death contributed to Henry Ford losing interest in aviation.

fordtrimotor192810-2

Ford published advertisements encouraging the development of modern airports.

By the early 1930s, much more modern airliners than the Trimotor were being designed and produced, starting with the Douglas DC-2. In another bit of automobile-airplane trivia, it was E.L.Cord who was one of the driving forces behind the development of the plane that took what the Ford Trimotor did for passenger aircraft and made it a far more practical way of travel, the DC-3. It’s not coincidental that in the Henry Ford Museum’s aviation section, the wings of the museum’s Ford Trimotor and Douglas DC-3 overlap each other. Those two planes pretty much created passenger air travel in the United States.

Another factor in Henry Ford leaving the aviation industry was that by 1933, the world was in the throes of the Great Depression and Ford Motor Company needed to focus on its core enterprise, building and selling cars. Speaking of which, in the early 1930s, Henry was sort of preoccupied with the development of the flathead Ford V8 engine, and meanwhile Edsel was getting on with his part of the invention of automotive styling, supervising what would become an all-time classic, the 1932 Ford. Trimotor production ended in 1933 after just fewer than 200 were built after eight years of production. It would be another eight years before Ford Motor Company would produce an  airplane again, though by the time Ford Motor Company was finished with production of that particular plane, at a rate of one plane per hour, Ford could build 200 B-24 Liberators in less than two weeks at the Willow Run plant.

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That’s a Douglas DC-3 in the background. Full gallery here.

As the Douglas planes supplanted the Trimotors for passenger service, the Trimotors were sold off to smaller airlines and cargo firms, some of them staying in service until the 1960s. During World War Two, Trimotors were converted for military use. Of the 199 Trimotors built, 18 of them still exist. A small number of Trimotors are even in service to this day, 80 year old airplanes that are still airworthy and providing excursion flights to vintage flight enthusiasts (here, here and here). Stout and his team indeed built a reliable and durable aircraft.

As with many of Henry Ford’s associates, William Stout and the automaker eventually parted ways. At first Ford moved him aside from technical responsibilities, instead using the designer as a company spokesman and sending him on a publicity campaign. In 1930, Stout left the company he founded, operating the Stout Engineering Laboratory, producing a variety of aircraft as well as the Stout Scarab, an early, limited production, aerodynamic automobile powered by a rear-mounted flathead Ford V8 that is considered to have been very influential in automotive design history. Stout had many admirers in the Detroit automotive design community and while he and Henry Ford parted ways, he’s still honored. Right in the middle of Ford country in Dearborn, on Oakwood Blvd adjacent to the Ford test track and just down the street from Ford’s Product Development Center is William Stout Elementary School.

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External levers controlled by the pilot actuated the plane’s control surfaces via cables. Full gallery here.

Though Ford Motor Company stopped making Trimotors in 1933 and though Henry Ford personally lost interest in aviation, commercial aviation was dramatically affected by Ford’s involvement in the Trimotor project. Many of Henry’s personal projects, like the electric car he tried to develop using his former boss and later close friend Thomas Edison’s nickel-iron batteries or Ford’s Village Industries project never made money. However, after Ford had bought out all of his partners and investors by 1919, to paraphrase Bob Dylan’s Lilly, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, “he did whatever he wanted”. The same was true of the Ford Trimotor. Ford likely never turned a profit on the venture. However, he had a lasting impact on passenger air travel. To begin with, at the time he was America’s most celebrated industrialist. His reputation gave credibility to both the aircraft and airline businesses and through the Trimotor he helped create much of what we know today as commercial aviation: paved runways, passenger terminals, hangers, airmail and radio navigation. The Ford Trimotor also helped make “airmail” a reality.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The Ford Trimotor pictured here was the first airplane to fly over the South Pole. On November 28, 1929, Admiral Richard Byrd, along with pilot Bernt Balchen, radioman/co-pilot Harold June and photographer Ashley McKinley, flew in this Ford Trimotor from their base camp on Antartica to the South Pole and back. According to the Ford museum, Byrd’s Trimotor was “souped up”, with a 520 hp center engine flanked by two 220 hp units. The flight took them almost 19 hours and they almost didn’t make it. In order to be able to gain sufficient altitude so as not to crash into the Polar Plateau, they had to drop not only their empty auxiliary fuel tanks but also all of their emergency supplies. Had they had to emergency land the plane, they likely would have starved to death. The flight, though, was a success and Byrd’s expedition is now in the history books. In case you’re wondering why the plane has “Floyd Bennett” painted on the side, the admiral named the plane in memory of his pilot on earlier expeditions who died from pneumonia contracted while recovering from a crash.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Note: In the narration of this video, I erroneously said that the Ford Flivver was the first airplane that Henry Ford produced. Ford in fact decided to make the “Model T of the Air” in 1926 after the initial success of the TriMotor.

As I said at the outset, TTAC is an automotive publication but if you’ve read this far you probably have an interest in airplanes as well. If so, the Henry Ford Museum is probably worth a visit for you (it should go without saying that the museum’s Driving America and Racing In America exhibits are a “must see” for any car enthusiast). The Ford Trimotor and Douglas DC-3 aren’t the only airplanes on display at the museum. There are two replicas of the 1903 Wright Flyer, one constructed to honor the 75th anniversary of the Kitty Hawk flight and the other built at the Wright Flyer’s centennial. In the adjacent Greenfield Village is the Wright brothers’ Dayton, Ohio bicycle shop where they honed their design using a 6 foot wind tunnel and then constructed the first Wright Flyer. Like many of the other historical buildings in the Village, the Wrights’ actual building was relocated there by Henry Ford. Other fixed-wing and rotor aircraft on permanent display in the museum include the 1909 Bleriot XI, 1931 Pitcairn Autogiro, 1939 Sikorsky VS300A Helicopter, 1920 Dayton Wright RB-1, 1927 Stinson Detroiter, 1927 Ryan “Spirit of St. Louis” Replica, 1929 Lockheed Vega, 1926 Ford Flivver, 1927 Boeing 40-B, 1915 Laird Biplane, 1917 Curtiss Biplane, and a 1926 Fokker Trimotor (used in Byrd and Bennett’s earlier attempt to fly over the North Pole).

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Reuters: GM Ignition Woes Came As Early As 1997 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/reuters-gm-ignition-woes-came-as-early-as-1997/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/reuters-gm-ignition-woes-came-as-early-as-1997/#comments Fri, 04 Jul 2014 12:00:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=858601 GM RenCen Downtown Detroit

It may have taken nearly 14 years for one ignition switch issue to finally find attention, but General Motors’ ignition woes go as far back as 1997, when Chevrolet Malibu owners had their own switch problems.

Reuters reports one of the earliest complaints filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was in April of that year, when a New Jersey woman said she had been stuck on the road seven times with her new Malibu due to the switch’s inability to turn and the key stuck in place. The defective part was replaced twice, but to no avail. Other complaints include the key being easily removable while the power was still on, and power suddenly cutting out.

By 2001, when the 2000 Chevrolet Impala experienced its own ignition issues similar to those in the Malibu and, further on, the Cobalt and Saturn Ion, GM sent a pair of service bulletins to its dealership network, offering potential solutions to remedy the problems in both vehicles. However, no recall would be issued until Monday’s order of 8.4 million vehicles.

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General Motors Digest: July 3, 2014 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/general-motors-digest-july-3-2014/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/general-motors-digest-july-3-2014/#comments Thu, 03 Jul 2014 13:00:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=858049 General Motors headquarters in Detroit, Michigan

In today’s General Motors digest: GM recalls a recall; the automaker gains market share in spite of itself; its bankruptcy judge believes it may have committed fraud; the U.S. Senate gets ready for a second February 2014 recall hearing; and Anthony Foxx vows to keep the heat turned up on GM.

Detroit Free Press reports the automaker’s recall of the 2013 – 2014 Cadillac CTS over an ignition switch issue similar to the one affecting the 2010 – 2014 Chevrolet Camaro, as well as the issue that kicked off GM’s recall parade back in February, only affected 264 coupes and wagons assembled before the redesigned sedan left the factory floor; the sedan was incorrectly listed among the 8.4 million vehicles recalled worldwide Monday.

In spite of said recall parade, Automotive News says GM gained market shared in the first six months of 2014, jumping from 16.9 percent in January to 18.8 percent in June. Further, June 2014 sales climbed 1.2 percent to 1.42 million units — instead of falling 2.6 percent as some analysts had predicted — fueled by new models entering the showroom and more lease deals. In turn, the annualized selling rate rose to 16.98 million, the highest rate seen since July 2006, and one higher than 2013′s 15.9 million in the same period. GM hopes to keep up the pace by offering Cobalt owners and owners of other recalled vehicles a $500 incentive to trade-in for a certified used vehicle, and employee pricing on new models; so far, 21 percent of Cobalt owners have taken the automaker up on its offer between March and May 2014.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Gerber, who presided over the automaker’s bankruptcy proceedings in 2009, may have to haul GM back in on fraud charges if evidence is found, pointing to then-CEO Fritz Henderson’s possible knowledge — and obfuscation — of the ignition switch problem. Should the evidence be there, Judge Gerber could force the automaker to pay billions of dollars to any of the plaintiffs in the 90-plus lawsuits now waiting for his approval to proceed, which could come as soon as September 15.

Over in the Beltway, Reuters says a consumer protection and product safety subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee will hold a second hearing on the February 2014 recall July 17, though no announcement has been made as to who will be invited to testify as of this writing.

Finally, The Detroit News reports U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration both vow to “keep putting the screws on [GM's safety efforts] until it gets right.” The agency, who is monitoring the automaker for the next three years as part of the latter’s settlement with the federal government, will look into the newest recalls to determine if GM issued them in a timely manner, though Foxx thinks the automaker is acting in good faith.

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Cuban New-Car Sales Total 50 During First Half Of 2014 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/cuban-new-car-sales-total-50-during-first-half-of-2014/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/cuban-new-car-sales-total-50-during-first-half-of-2014/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 12:00:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=857145 Cuban Yank tank

Last year, the Cuban government finally made it legal for its citizens to freely buy new vehicles for the first time since Fidel Castro sent Fulgencio Batista packing in 1959. The people rejoiced right up until they saw the prices on the showroom floor this January, family sedans marked up 400 percent or above as if they were Ferraris and Bugattis.

Reuters reports that because of the markup, only 50 cars and four motorcycles left the 11 nationalized lots in Cuba during the first six months of 2014, netting a total of $1.28 million USD in new car sales. The high prices also affect foreign businesses and potential investors, all none too thrilled to seek government permission to import their own vehicles without going through the national showroom floor.

In one example cited by the news organization, a Havana Peugeot dealership wanted $91,000 for a 2013 206, and $262,000 for a 506 of similar vintage, which makes the government’s goal of investing 75 percent of all new-car sales into public transportation easier said than done; most state workers make the equivalent of $20 USD per month.

Meanwhile, used car sales are doing much better, with the average price for a used vehicle — including motorcycles — holding at $23,759. Most of the used stock originates from retired rental car fleets.

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General Motors Digest: June 30, 2014 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/general-motors-digest-june-30-2014/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/general-motors-digest-june-30-2014/#comments Mon, 30 Jun 2014 13:00:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=855849 GM Renaissance Center

In today’s General Motors digest: GM recalls over 700,000 units globally; Siemens VDO Automotive urged the automaker to look into airbag data in 2004; product chief Doug Parks was aware of the ignition problems in 2005; Feinberg compensation plan will have no payment cap; and Delphi is under the gun from both Congress and the IRS.

Autoblog and The Detroit News report the following vehicles are under recall:

  • 2013 – 2014 Chevrolet Cruze: Takata airbag inflator defect; 29,019 (U.S.), 4,066 (Canada)
  • 2014 – 2015 Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra; 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe, Surburban/GMC Yukon, Yukon XL: Transfer case electronically switching to neutral without driver input; 392,459 (U.S.), 53,607 (Canada), 20,874 (Other Markets)
  • 2013 – 2014 Chevrolet Caprice, SS: Potential for windshield wiper motor gear teeth to become stripped; 4,794 (U.S.)
  • 2014 Chevrolet Corvette: Insufficient welding in rear shocks of FE1, FE3 suspension-equipped vehicles; 1,939 (U.S.), 33 (Canada), 82 (Other Markets)
  • 2009 – 2012 Buick Excelle GT: Potential for high-beams to remain on under extreme circumstances; 194,107 (China)

Automotive News says in 2004, Siemens VDO Automotive engineer Douglas McConnell wrote a report urging GM to look into a possible link between airbag sensors and the loss of power via the ignition cycle. The GM-commissioned report was penned a month before the first Chevrolet Cobalts left the assembly line, and shown to five engineers working for the automaker at the time, including Matthew Craig, who currently works for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as its chief of human injury research. Declining to elaborate on the report, representative Greg Martin stated “there were several missed opportunities for GM to properly identify the problem,” citing the Valukas report to back his statement.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Doug Parks, appointed to the post of vice president of global product programs by CEO Mary Barra, was a vehicle chief engineer for the Chevrolet Cobalt program in 2005. In that role, he was a part of the cost debate over whether or not to redesign the ignition switch that would be put into the compact, stating in a May 2005 email that changing the design “appears to be the only real, quick solution.” Parks had been invited to attend two meetings in the first half of 2005 over the issue, though nothing could be determined as far as attendance was concerned.

In the present, Kenneth Feinberg’s compensation program for those injured or killed as a result of the ignition switch will pay claims to all drivers, passengers and bystanders involved in an accident with an affected GM vehicle. Further, claimants will have few hurdles to go through in being paid, including alcohol use and lack of physical evidence. Finally, the program will have no cap on the amount of money paid in total, though no word has been given by Feinberg and his time about how much will be paid per victim and their families. Claims will be accepted beginning August 1.

Finally, Automotive News reports Delphi, already under investigation by the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee over its part of the February 2014 ignition switch recall, is now under the gun from the Internal Revenue Service over whether or not the supplier can be taxed as a domestic corporation. Upon emerging from bankruptcy in 2009, Delphi set up its tax base in the United Kingdom, though it retained its headquarters and executive team in Troy, Mich. Should the supplier lose its appeal with the IRS, its tax rate could rise to 22 percent effective rate, up from the 17 percent Delphi pays currently. In 2013, it paid $256 million in taxes; under the new rate, an additional $75 million would need to be paid, bringing the total to approximately $331.3 million.

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General Motors Digest: June 27, 2014 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/general-motors-digest-june-27-2014/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/general-motors-digest-june-27-2014/#comments Fri, 27 Jun 2014 13:00:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=854625 Mary Barra at 2014 Detroit Auto Show

In today’s General Motors digest: The automaker rescinds its stop-sale of 33,000 Chevrolet Cruzes over Takata air bag issues, recalls 29,019; Delphi turns over documents to a federal grand jury; Kenneth Feinberg’s compensation plan will be revealed Monday; and CEO Mary Barra says more recalls may be coming, but no more people will be fired as a result of the Valukas report.

Automotive News reports GM lifted its stop-sale order of 33,000 2013 – 2014 Chevrolet Cruzes due to a defective airbag inflator found in units provided by supplier Takata once the automaker accounted for all the affected vehicles by comparing VINs to the parts list. Detroit Free Press adds GM then recalled the affected units, totaling 29,019, all of them still under its new vehicle warranty. The defect, if not treated, could result in the inflator — and the airbag unit overall — catastrophically exploding or non-deployment of the airbag in an accident.

Speaking of suppliers, The Detroit News says Delphi delivered hundreds of documents related to its part of the February 2014 ignition switch recall to the U.S. Justice Department via grand jury subpoena. The supplier also sought confidential treatment in turning over the requested documents. Meanwhile, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee made public 80 emails and other documents by the automaker and the supplier illustrating GM’s struggles with the ignition switch, painting “a disturbing and devastating picture, a beyond-worst-case systemic breakdown that led to lives needlessly lost,” according to U.S. Representatives Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania and Fred Upton of Michigan.

Automotive News reports Kenneth Feinberg, the victim-compensation expert hired by GM to compensate victims of the defective ignition switch, will announce his plan Monday at 10 a.m. in Washington, D.C. Though no dollar amount will likely be pegged in the announcement, the terms of the plan could sway victims into accepting compensation over filing a lawsuit against GM. The automaker did not provide its own estimate, as well.

Finally, Reuters reports CEO Mary Barra said during an interview with Matt Lauer on NBC’s “The Today Show” that more recalls could come down the pike, based on data received. She also commented on the Feinberg plan, stating her company wants “every single person who either lost a loved one or has a serious physical injury to be a part of that program.” Detroit Free Press adds that when Lauer asked if there would be more firings linked to the ignition switch, Barra proclaimed everyone who would be let go has been let go. She emphasized that the “silos of information” that obfuscated the issue were being torn down, with employees taking notes during safety meetings that are then presented to her for review.

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GM Ignition Issues Pile Up From Within, Abroad http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/gm-ignition-issues-pile-up-from-within-abroad/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/gm-ignition-issues-pile-up-from-within-abroad/#comments Thu, 26 Jun 2014 12:00:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=852961 Violet GM RenCen

In today’s General Motors digest: An ignition-related issue is quietly fixed years before the February 2014 recall; a Chinese supplier is blamed for defective switches recalled in June; Ally prepares to take flight from the Beltway; and Mark Reuss helps bring back a Corvette stolen 33 years ago.

Automotive News reports two design flaws in switches used on the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion allowed the key to slip out of the casing while the engine still had power. The flaws were investigated twice in November 2004 and June 2005, prompting supplier Ortech to modify the shape and size of the ignition lock cylinder based on the findings. However, consumers weren’t notified of this particular change until a recall notice was issued in April 2014. The design change was implemented in 2006, according to GM.

In related news, Reuters reports the recall of 3.4 million vehicles earlier this month by GM was due to a defective ignition switch made by Chinese supplier Dalian Alps Electronics. Unlike the similar situation affecting 2.6 million vehicles recalled in February, the automaker has opted to replace or rework the keys to eliminate a slot that would allow a ring to shift to one side, pulling the switch out of the “run” position. Parent company Alps Electric claims that while Dalian did make the part, the subsidiary manufactured the switch based on GM’s designs, and that neither party had received word or complaint from the automaker about the issue.

On the financial front, Automotive News says Ally Financial, the former financial wing of GM under the name GMAC Financial, is one step closer to corporate independence from ownership by the United States Treasury when two of the remaining three Treasury-nominated board members step down from the board during the lender’s annual shareholder conference July 17. Ally hopes to be out from government ownership by the end of 2014, allowing the lender to regain access to bank deposits in funding subprime loans, benefiting both it and its dealership network due to the low costs in using bank deposits over more expensive funding tools. Currently, the Treasury owns 16 percent of Ally, down from 63 percent at the start of 2014, and 37 percent prior to the lender’s IPO in April.

Finally, WXYZ-TV reports GM’s executive vice president of global product development Mark Reuss has offered to bring home a 1979 Chevrolet Corvette that was stolen 33 years ago from its owner, George Talley, at GM’s expense. Earlier this week, AAA called Talley to inform him the car was found in good condition in Hattiesburg, Miss. after a falsified VIN tipped off authorities to the car’s whereabouts. Reuss made the offer to Talley during an interview with WJR-AM’s Paul W. Smith, and the Corvette is expected to come home within the next few days.

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Honda, Nissan, Mazda Recall 3 Million Over Defective Airbag Inflators http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/honda-nissan-mazda-recall-3-million-over-defective-airbag-inflators/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/honda-nissan-mazda-recall-3-million-over-defective-airbag-inflators/#comments Tue, 24 Jun 2014 10:00:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=850770 Honda_Civic_Si_EP3

Honda, Nissan and Mazda are recalling a total of 3 million vehicles equipped with defective airbag inflators supplied by Takata, following a similar action by Toyota.

Automotive News reports 2.03 million Hondas, 755,000 Nissans and 159,807 Mazdas globally are being recalled to replace the defective units. The effort comes just after Toyota recalled 1.62 vehicles outside Japan that were recalled earlier this month for the same issue, and 655,000 vehicles in the home market that were being recalled for the first time. As of June 23, 10 million vehicles between 2009 and 2014 have been recalled due to defects in Takata’s airbag units.

June’s action follow those by the four automakers conducted in April of this year, when Takata informed the group that a number of the defective units had escaped into the supplier channels due to poor record-keeping between 2000 and 2002 at the supplier’s plants in Washington and Mexico, where the moisture-infected units were assembled and stored. Moisture degraded the airbags’ inflators, which led to the units exploding, throwing metal shrapnel throughout the cabin.

Other manufacturers who used Takata airbags — including Ford, Chrysler and BMW — are also calling back a handful of affected models, especially those in humid climates such as Florida and Puerto Rico; CEO Shigehisa Takada claimed “the high levels of absolute humidity in those states” may also cause catastrophic failure of the inflators.

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Former GM Engineer: Lower-Level Management At Root Of Company’s Problems http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/former-gm-engineer-lower-level-management-at-root-of-companys-problems/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/former-gm-engineer-lower-level-management-at-root-of-companys-problems/#comments Fri, 20 Jun 2014 10:00:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=847921 Violet GM RenCen

Though the Valukas report may have reaped 15 employees linked to the February 2014 ignition switch recall — including a number of senior executives — one former General Motors employee’s experience suggests doing the same to the lower levels of corporate leadership.

Jalopnik reposted a comment by a former engineer made during an op-ed about using the word “culture” in place of “people” as far as what was liable for the overall indifference expressed within the automaker. The engineer spent 10 months with GM, his employment ending at the same time the company found itself thrashed upon the rocks of the Great Recession, where he saw just how indifferent his then-employer could be.

The engineer said he spent more time in meetings that had little if anything to do with his work on the company’s eAssist hybrid system than he had doing the actual work he believed he was hired to do. Asking why his presence was always requested — especially if eAssist was not ever on the agenda — was met with admonishment by those higher on the totem pole. When the subject of doing actual work came up, they said he should spend 70 hours per week on work-related tasks without the expectation of overtime pay. Finally, upon doing his job — making a design decision for a press-in coolant tube — an alleged supervisor raged against the engineer for making the decision without having the proper authority to do so, claiming his prior experience meant nothing if it wasn’t earned at GM.

The story ends at the unemployment line — the engineer was let go because he installed a weather app on his assigned computer — where he had to fight the company for his benefit claim. He adds that while it’s easy to blame the senior executives for all of GM’s woes then and now, true change can only happen by clearing out the middle and lower levels of management of those who can’t and don’t want to be bothered to do the right thing.

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Barra Returns To Face Congress Post-Valukas Report http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/barra-returns-to-face-congress-post-valukas-report/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/barra-returns-to-face-congress-post-valukas-report/#comments Thu, 19 Jun 2014 10:00:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=846857 Barra and Valukas are sworn in before House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill

In today’s digest: General Motors CEO Mary Barra returns to the Beltway with Anton Valukas in tow; GM is hit with a $10 billion lawsuit; affected families appear before Barra’s testimony; and a safety group calls the Valukas report “flawed.”

Automotive News reports Barra made good on her promise to return to Capitol Hill for a second round of Congressional hearings over the February 2014 ignition switch recall that has upended the automaker for the time being. During Wednesday’s hearing before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, she proclaimed any unexpected vehicle shutdown to now be considered a safety concern by the automaker, instead of waiting until a clear link surfaced on its own prior to action. The hearing also revealed just how much more work awaits GM in overhauling its corporate culture for the better of all, recounting a report made by an employee in 2005 about ignition switch issues in the 2006 Chevrolet Impala similar to those in the Cobalt. However, it would take until this week for a “big recall” of the mid-size sedan over the issue to occur due to the company’s widespread safety deficiencies.

Later in the hearing, former U.S. attorney Anton Valukas, hired by GM to conduct an independent internal investigation into the recall, took questions about his report. Valukas stated that while he had unfettered access to the automaker, getting through to supplier Delphi and trial lawyers leading cases against GM was easier said than done. Barra then had words about Ray DeGiorgio, the former GM engineer named repeatedly in the Valukas report for his approval of the original switch and its undocumented redesign. In short, she didn’t find DeGiorgio “credible” regarding his statements to Valukas’ team of investigators.

Finally, Barra addressed the issue of compensation for the families affected by the original recall, stating victim-compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg would have total control of the fund, and that GM will have no cap on compensation:

We want to capture every single person who suffered serious injury or lost a loved one — every single one. If the ignition switch was part of the issue, we want them in the program. We want to get everybody that’s affected.

Reuters reports GM is now under the gun of a $10 billion lawsuit filed by Hagens Berman Sobal Shapiro in federal court in Riverside, Calif. on behalf of Anna Andrews. The lawsuit calls for compensation due to lost resale value for those who owned or leased a GM vehicle between July 10, 2009 and April 1, 2014; Andrews herself claimed she would have not purchased her used 2010 Buick LaCrosse — or would have opted for a lower price — “had GM done a better job of disclosing vehicle defects.” Should all come to pass, some 15 million GM customers would receive damages whether their vehicles were recalled or not.

Detroit Free Press says the families affected by the defective switch at the heart of the February 2014 recall made an appearance alongside U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut prior to Wednesday’s hearing to help others who may have been harmed by products not under recall, and to call for quicker issuing of recalls of flawed vehicles. The families shared stories of how GM’s negligence destroyed the lives of not only those behind the wheel of the vehicles with the defect, but their lives as well. Blumenthal added that “the victims who settled should be given the opportunity to recontest their claims.”

Finally, Center for Auto Safety director Clarence Ditlow penned a letter to Valukas, stating the attorney had accepted the automaker’s defense “that its engineers and senior managers did not know” stalling in vehicles was a major safety issue, to the detriment of his report. He added that the Valukas report had omitted or missed evidence “in constructing what amounts to a corporate defense against criminal charges… that show GM at its highest levels of management considers stalling to be a safety defect.” The report said officials did not consider stalling issues in the Cobalt or Saturn Ion as a hazard until the issue was linked to the failed deployment of air bags due to a loss of power prior to an accident.

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GM Corporate Culture Silenced Whistleblower Over Fuel-Leak Recall http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/gm-corporate-culture-silenced-whistleblower-over-fuel-leak-recall/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/gm-corporate-culture-silenced-whistleblower-over-fuel-leak-recall/#comments Wed, 18 Jun 2014 19:17:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=846185 2002-Chevrolet-TrailBlazer-SUV_Image-08-800

To say General Motors has a failure to communicate among itself and with the outside is an understatement that grows with each passing day, especially in light of how it treated a whistleblower in 2003 over its handling of a recall regarding fuel leaks in the automaker’s line of compact SUVs.

Bloomberg Businessweek recounts the story of GM employee Courtland Kelley, who began his career out of community college in 1983, then became a safety inspector five years later for what would become GM’s Global Delivery Survey, auditing vehicles in rail yards for minor problems before leaving for the showroom floor. The survey would grow in scope over time under the hand of Bill McAleer, reporting more serious safety issues such as tie rods falling off, improperly attached brakes and, in the case of the Chevrolet TrailBlazer/GMC Envoy/Oldsmobile Bravada, fuel leaks.

Unfortunately for both McAleer and Kelley on separate occasions, GM not only didn’t consider the seriousness of their findings beyond a small recall of the affected SUVs — made only after a GM exec experienced the leak first-hand on the highway — but made every effort to silence them when they sought whistleblower protection in their individual suits against the automaker for corporate negligence. McAleer was laid-off from GM in 2004, while Kelley was eventually placed in a dead-end position meant to keep him from finding “every problem that GM might have.”

Prior to this final reassignment, Kelley was made brand quality manager and given a fellow employee named Steven Oakley to handle GM’s compact offerings at the time, the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire. Oakley took his place in 2004 in time for the growing concerns over the Cobalt’s ignition switch. On three occasions, he told the team led by independent investigator Anton Valukas “that he felt pressure to describe something as a convenience issue rather than a safety problem,” citing the fate of his predecessor at the hands of the company’s senior execs. Oakley attempted to address the Cobalt’s issues in a draft of a service bulletin, using language that was verbotten by GM’s product investigators.

As for Kelley, GM claimed in statement made to the publication that they would “reexamine [his] employment claims as well as the safety concerns that he has, and that’s part of our redoubled effort to ensure customer safety.”

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Federal Prosecutors Summon GM Employees For Recall Interviews http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/federal-prosecutors-summon-gm-employees-for-recall-interviews/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/federal-prosecutors-summon-gm-employees-for-recall-interviews/#comments Mon, 16 Jun 2014 13:00:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=844961 GM Next

In its criminal investigation into General Motors, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharra’s office are summoning current and former employees to come to New York for interviews regarding the automaker’s actions over the ignition switch behind the February 2014 product recall of 2.6 million vehicles.

The Wall Street Journal reports the federal prosecutor’s office is seeking out those who were named in the Valukas Report for the voluntary interviews, including the 15 who were cast out of GM following the report’s release earlier this month. The report itself is being lauded by prosecutors on the state and federal levels for its depth and detail, though some caution may come from the report’s clearing of current CEO Mary Barra and her senior executives of any wrongdoing in relation to the decade-plus delay of the part’s recall.

That said, those who don’t voluntarily comply with the request may find themselves subpoenaed before a grand jury later on, and without a lawyer at their side as they testify under oath. However, those who do make the trip to Manhattan will likely receive favorable treatment from prosecutors during their interviews, including limited immunity deals in exchange for all they know.

The investigation is among the few that are ongoing between federal and state officials, including those of the attorneys general in 11 states: Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nevada and New York. All investigations are in the early phase, and prosecutors are keeping their cards close to the vest from the defense for the time being.

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Ford Australia’s FPV Builds Its Final V8 Interceptor http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/ford-australias-fpv-builds-its-final-v8-interceptor/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/ford-australias-fpv-builds-its-final-v8-interceptor/#comments Mon, 16 Jun 2014 10:00:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=844825 gt-f01-1

Though Ford Australia has yet to build its last vehicle, the subsidiary’s Ford Performance Vehicles unit has come to the end of the road with its final V8 interceptor.

Autoblog reports FPV’s swan song is the Falcon GT F 351, a limited edition of 500 for Australia and 50 for New Zealand augmented by a supercharged 5-liter V8 pushing 471 horsepower — or 351 kW, in honor of the 5.8-liter/351 cubic-inch V8 that powered the Falcon GTs of history — and 420 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. The GT F comes with the handling package from the Falcon R-Spec, while Brembo brakes help bring the last FPV model to a stop.

On the outside, the limited-sedan Falcon features black racing stripes that run from the bonnet to the boot, along with black accents under the headlamps and throughout the rest of the sedan. Meanwhile, orange is the new black on the inside, finding its way onto seat stitching, instrument faces and the GT F logo.

In addition to the GT F, the unit — which is taking its final bow before the Mustang takes to the stage — is also building 120 Pursuit Utes with the same 5-liter V8, though it delivers 422 horses pulling 402 lb-ft of torque to the bed in the back instead of the sedan’s “fuel-injected suicide machine”-stopping firepower. No prices have been given for either limited-edition model.

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Energy Drinks May Follow Tobacco Sponsorship Into History http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/energy-drinks-may-follow-tobacco-sponsorship-into-history/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/energy-drinks-may-follow-tobacco-sponsorship-into-history/#comments Fri, 13 Jun 2014 12:00:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=843482 2014 Red Bull F1

Once upon a time, the Sprint Cup was the Winston Cup, Rothmans decorated Porsche 962s in Group C, and the Marlboro chevron was everywhere a wheel turned in anger. Though those days are long gone, energy drink makers like Red Bull and Monster have stepped in to fill the financial void left behind by Big Tobacco. At least for now.

Asphalt & Rubber says that what happened to tobacco sponsorship in Europe and, eventually, the rest of the world could soon happen to energy drink sponsorship. Sales of energy drinks have been banned for sale to consumers under 18 in Lithuania thus far, while some cities and states in the United States are considering the same. Meanwhile, the American Medical Association is advocating a marketing ban on energy drinks to under-18s, which led to industry leaders from the likes of Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar et al having to testify before Congress.

The potential result of increased regulation could mean the energy drink makers may choose to focus on one-off events instead of sponsoring events and teams in Formula One, MotoGP et al, leaving both organizations and competitors alike once again seeking out the kind of sponsorship dollars tobacco once provided prior to the industry’s exodus in the mid- through late 1990s.

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Nine States Investigate GM Ignition Switch Recall http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/nine-states-investigate-gm-ignition-switch-recall/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/nine-states-investigate-gm-ignition-switch-recall/#comments Fri, 13 Jun 2014 11:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=843409 Rencen. Picture courtesy GM

In today’s General Motors digest: Nine states are investigating the handling of the automaker’s ignition switch recall; compensation will only focus on those injured or killed; a Georgia injury claim’s transfer to New York a sign of things to come for similar claims; and a federal official saw GM’s corporate culture at work during bankruptcy proceedings, yet remained silent.

Bloomberg reports attorneys general in Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana and Utah are all leading investigations into the February 2014 GM ignition switch recall in an effort address concerns among their constituents over their affected vehicles. Unlike the federal prosecutors in New York — who are conducting their own investigation into the recall — the attorneys general are able to make decisions faster, former Maine Attorney General Jim Tierney citing individuality as the key to quick decisions. As for potential fraud and negligence allegations, Tierney expects those questions will be answered “down the road,” the main focus of the AGs being to let GM know “they’re on the case and they’re paying attention.”

Within GM, The Detroit News says on the same day CEO Mary Barra announced she and independent investigator Anton Valukas would be heading up to Capitol Hill for a promised return to Congress, victim-compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg clarified that the fund he is designing for GM will only pay those affected by injury or death as a result of the recalled out-of-spec ignition switch found in 2.6 million vehicles; the switch is currently linked to 13 fatalities and 54 accidents. Though he has yet to determine the specifics on those to be compensated, Feinberg “will not include economic loss claims for e.g. ‘perceived diminished value.’” Those who are suing for such claims — over 70 plaintiffs — will instead meet before U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in New York, where the automaker hopes the liability shield established upon exit from bankruptcy in 2009 will prevent those cases from moving further.

Speaking of New York, Bloomberg adds the injury lawsuit filed by Georgia attorney Lance Cooper and Alabama lawyer Jere Beasley on behalf of the family of Brooke Melton — who originally settled with GM last September prior to the recall — will likely join the economic value-related suits in New York instead of being considered for compensation. GM representative Kevin Kelly stated that any injury claim, no matter the timing, “would be subject to [Kenneth] Feinberg and the protocol he outlines,” though the automaker’s decision regarding the Melton case is, as far as it’s concerned, already settled. The Melton family is suing for damages beyond the federal minimum of $75,000, including “the full value” of their daughter’s life and funeral costs.

Finally, Automotive News reports a New York Times op-ed penned by Steven Rattner, who led the federal financial bailout of GM and Chrysler, recounted the first-hand knowledge of GM’s corporate culture at work in 2009. Rattner’s experience with the culture was as follows:

Looking under the hood of GM was the most stunningly disappointing dissection of a paid-up member of corporate America in my 30-year Wall Street career.

However, while he believed then-CEO Rick Wagoner left a lot to be desired on the corporate responsibility front — in comparison with Ford CEO Alan Mullaly — Rattner did not believe the overall senior management was at-fault for the ignition switch whose problems were years away from exploding into the spotlight.

Two safety advocates took issue with the op-ed: Care for Crash Victims auto safety research Louis Lombardo questioned Rattner’s decision to report on the culture, yet not investigate further into GM or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration beyond the bottom line; and former agency head Joan Claybrook stated his account as lacking clarity, “encouraging [GM] to have a wink, a nod and a salute” over liability concerns.

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Barra, Valukas To Meet With House Committee Next Week http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/barra-valukas-to-meet-with-house-committee-next-week/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/barra-valukas-to-meet-with-house-committee-next-week/#comments Thu, 12 Jun 2014 12:00:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=842946 Mary Barra

As promised in April before both the U.S. House and Senate, General Motors CEO Mary Barra will appear next Wednesday in Washington, D.C. for a second round of congressional hearings over the February 2014 GM ignition switch recall.

Automotive News reports Barra will be accompanied by former U.S. attorney Anton Valukas, who was called upon by GM to independently investigate and report the findings on the how and why an out-of-spec ignition switch made at the turn of the millennium became the monster that flipped the automaker on its head nearly 14 years later. Both Barra and Valukas will meet with the House Energy and Commerce Committee to discuss the latter’s findings.

According to a statement made by GM, Barra’s visit is meant to update the committee “on the actions GM is taking in response” to the recall, including “fixing the failures identified in the Valukas report, building a culture centered on safety, quality and excellence, and doing what’s right for victims and their families.” The report cleared Barra and top execs of wrongdoing regarding the switch and recall, and proclaimed no cover-up in the matter.

The Senate Commerce Committee is still conducting its investigation into GM, but has not at this time set up an appointment with Barra and Valukas for its own hearing over the report.

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Renault, Caterham Part Ways Over Direction Of Alpine Joint Venture http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/renault-caterham-part-ways-over-direction-of-alpine-joint-venture/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/renault-caterham-part-ways-over-direction-of-alpine-joint-venture/#comments Wed, 11 Jun 2014 13:00:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=842033 renault-alpine-a110-50-concept-rear-view

Though a new Alpine is set to come out in 2016, the new car will be lacking in English blood: Renault and Caterham have broken off their engagement to revive the historic French marque.

Autoblog reports the joint venture dissolved amid tensions over development of a pair of sports cars that were set to debut in 2016. Renault and Caterham first came together to build the cars in November 2012. At the time, the latter’s Formula One team ran the former’s engines, and team owner Tony Fernandes wanted to do the same for the Caterham 7. From there, the Société des Automobiles Alpine Caterham was formed under the roof of the Alpine factory in Dieppe, France, and had delivered the A110-50 concept in the brief time the two entities worked together.

Regarding the future, both automakers will pursue building their sports cars separately, though they hinted that “other forms of cooperation” could come about given the right conditions. The joint venture will be renamed Société des Automobiles Alpine during a general meeting this month.

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Abe Administration Pushes Automakers, Nation Away From Kei Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/abe-administration-pushes-automakers-nation-away-from-kei-cars/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/abe-administration-pushes-automakers-nation-away-from-kei-cars/#comments Wed, 11 Jun 2014 11:00:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=841985 Nissan Moco

For ages, the kei car has been one of the darlings of the automotive world, owing to its tiny size and equally tiny engine (that also netted owners a smaller tax bill). Alas, Japan’s littlest cars may soon be put in a toy box destined for Goodwill as the nation’s government puts the pressure on both automakers and owners to move toward supporting bigger offerings.

The New York Times reports the Japanese government introduced three tax increases on kei owners, including a 50 percent boost in the kei car tax meant to bring their tax burden close to larger vehicles. Officials claim the cars are becoming a drain on the Diet’s coffers both on the tax and free trade fronts, and as they cannot be exported to other markets — college campuses withstanding — the keis are a waste of profit and R&D for automakers.

The Abe administration may see push back from owners and automakers alike, however. Smaller automakers such as Suzuki and Daihatsu use the R&D from their kei offerings to better compete in other markets where similar offerings are sold, as well as adding more content to make their cars more attractive to their local market base. Owners, meanwhile, opt for keis because of the low ownership costs involved, and the greater mobility offered in areas where mass transit is few and far between.

The tax increase on the kei has affected both parties, with automakers losing sales and owners who may decide not to buy any vehicle altogether; sales are expected to drop from 2.23 million in 2013 to 1.7 million in 2015.

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US Judicial Panel Consolidates Lawsuits, Sends Them To NY http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/us-judicial-panel-consolidates-lawsuits-sends-them-to-ny/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/us-judicial-panel-consolidates-lawsuits-sends-them-to-ny/#comments Tue, 10 Jun 2014 13:00:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=841578 RenCen1

Reuters reports the lawsuits filed against General Motors over its decade-plus handling of the ignition switched linked to 13 fatalities and 54 accidents will all be reviewed by U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in the Southern District of New York, as ruled Monday by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. The panel determined New York to be the appropriate venue for the hearings based upon the court’s handling of the 2009 bankruptcy that allowed the automaker to shed its former self, liabilities and all. The lawsuits to be heard by the bankruptcy judge involve economic damages, suits GM wants the judge to determine if they are blocked by the liability protections established upon its exit from bankruptcy.

KARE-TV reports one of the families affected by the recall expressed their outrage at the automaker’s decision to include their daughter’s friend among the 13 who lost their lives, but not their daughter, who died with her friend. Ken and Jayne Rimer believe their daughter, Natasha Weigel, had been sitting in the back of the Chevrolet Cobalt behind her friend Amy Rademaker, had not been counted because Weigel was not in front of an airbag when the vehicle smashed through several trees in 2006. The Rimers also doubted CEO Mary Barra’s sincerity when they spoke to her about Natasha, Jayne claiming Barra’s tears to be “staged.” The family is demanding to know why Weigel was left out of the fatality count, but did not state how they would go about obtaining said information.

In Detroit, Automotive News reports other families affected by the recall are planning to protest outside of the annual GM shareholders meeting Tuesday. Monday, protesters gathered at the Renaissance Center to let their voice be heard by all who would hear, including the live cameras of CNBC. Around 20 are expected to protest the shareholders meeting beginning at 9:30 a.m.

Meanwhile, three more names were revealed from the list of 15 who were fired by GM last week after the Valukas report was published:

  • Jaclyn Palmer: Attorney
  • Ronald Porter: Attorney
  • Maureen Foley-Gardner: Director of field performance evaluation

A total of 11 names have been revealed as of this writing, including former GM engineer Ray DeGiorgio, which said report laid the majority of the blame for the ignition switch upon. The 325-page report mentions DeGiorgio by name 207 times, including in the opening sentence of the report itself. Attorney Anton Valukas, hired by GM to conduct the investigation that bears his name, says of the former engineer:

He actually changed the ignition switch to solve the problem in later model years of the Cobalt, but failed to document it, told no one, and claimed to remember nothing about the change.

Valukas added DeGiorgio’s decision to solve the problem but not to document the change was “deliberate” and “an act that violated GM’s policies and which would throw GM investigators off the track for years.”

Finally, The Detroit News reports the GM Board of Directors are well aware of the recall issues, but are not happy with the associated headache. Chair Tim Solso says he and his board members have faith in Barra and her executive team, but is looking to push forward with improving the corporate culture at the root of the recall with “high-performance teams and quality leadership… in the right jobs… aligned around guiding principles, vision, values and strategy.” Solso adds the crisis has brought the leadership together, with GM becoming more transparent and focused on its customer base.

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