The Truth About Cars » People The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:30:05 +0000 en-US hourly 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 (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 » People Musk: Tesla Will Build Cars In China Within Next Few Years Tue, 22 Apr 2014 13:00:56 +0000 Model S - Tesla Motors China

Though Tesla is now just delivering new vehicles to China, CEO Elon Musk predicts his company will build luxury electric vehicles in the burgeoning market within the next three to four years.

Bloomberg reports the move to localized production would allow the automaker to sell their wares while also avoiding China’s 25 percent import tariff. Right now, a new Model S retails for $118,000 in Beijing due to VAT, shipping and import duties, compared to $71,000 in Los Angeles. Musk hopes to qualify the Model S for local subsidies to help offset costs in much the same way the luxury EV sedan receives federal tax credits back in the United States.

In addition, Tesla is expanding its Supercharger network to China, with Beijing and Shanghai among the first cities to join. No word yet as to how much the automaker is investing in the expansion.

A number of challenges lay ahead for Tesla’s move into the market, including slow adoption of electric vehicles among Chinese consumers and lack of a robust infrastructure, as well the loss of China general manager of operations Kingston Chang prior to the automaker’s entry. That said, Tesla plans to increase overall global sales 56 percent this year, moving 35,000 EVs out of the showroom in so doing.

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UAW Ends Fight For Organization Of Tennessee VW Plant Mon, 21 Apr 2014 20:30:02 +0000 volkswagen-chattanooga-solar-park-08

The Huffington Post reports the United Auto Workers has withdrawn its petition with the National Labor Resources Board challenging the results of the February 2014 election regarding organization of the workforce at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.

UAW President Bob King said the decision to withdraw was made “in the best interests” of all parties involved, citing the “historically dysfunctional and complex process” such a challenge before the NLRB would entail. King added that resistance met by both Tennessee governor Bill Haslam and U.S. Senator Bob Corker regarding the union’s effort to subpoena the politicians also factored into the decision to stand down:

The UAW is ready to put February’s tainted election in the rearview mirror and instead focus on advocating for new jobs and economic investment in Chattanooga.

Though the challenge — which would have led to a new election at the factory had it been successful — has been withdrawn, King said the challenge did shed light on the election by “inform[ing] the public about the unprecedented interference by anti-labor politicians and third parties,” such as the number of documents gathered by Nashville, Tenn. CBS affiliate WTVF-TV linking Gov. Haslam’s administration to incentives made to VW for a new factory on the alleged stipulation that the Chattanooga plant remaining unorganized.

Had the UAW stood firm with their petition, the first hearing would have been held Monday.

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GM Saved From ‘Park It Now’ Order, Looks To Strengthen Liability Protections Fri, 18 Apr 2014 14:00:34 +0000 Recalled GM ignition switch

The Detroit News reports U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos delivered a six-page ruling in favor of General Motors, saving the automaker from issuing a “park it now” order that would have proved costly both financially and in reputation. Had the order gone forward, it would have set a precedent that not even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration could attempt in its limited penalty power. The attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit for the order, Robert Hilliard, may appeal.

In other legal news, GM has filed a request with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in San Francisco to prevent lawsuits filed against the automaker in recall-related incidents prior to the 2009 exit from bankruptcy, reinforcing the liability protections established during the bankruptcy proceedings. GM is currently facing 41 separate lawsuits from 19 U.S. district courts, which may be consolidated into a single venue by a judicial panel in the early stages. The bankruptcy court in New York will rule on jurisdiction April 25.

Autoblog reports CEO Mary Barra will create a new group within the company to be headed by vice president of global product development Mark Reuss that will work with vice president of global vehicle safety Jeff Boyer in monitoring new products for potential safety concerns. Barra also addressed the suspension of engineers Gary Altman and Ray DeGiorgio during her 2014 NYIAS eve announcement:

Let me be really clear, these are real people with real careers, and I’m personally dedicated to making sure we have true facts of what happened… We agonized over that decision, but we thought that was the right thing for the individuals and right thing for the company at this time.

The Detroit News adds North America president Alan Bately, speaking before analysts and investors at the 2014 New York Auto Summit during the 2014 New York Auto Show Wednesday, proclaimed his employer was focused on safety, citing the Chevrolet Trax’s standard rearview camera as an example. When asked about the recall and whether money would be set aside to handle warranty and liability claims down the road, however, Bately said that until internal investigator Anton Valakus completed his work, GM wouldn’t have any answers to offer.

Meanwhile, the myriad of documents delivered to Congress and the NHTSA this week threw more fuel to the smoldering recall crisis when it was revealed GM and supplier Delphi redesigned an ignition switch on the Cadillac SRX prior to production in February 2006 after test drivers accidentally bumped the ignition out of power in a manner similar to the switch at the heart of the recall, which didn’t see a redesign until April of the same year. GM added that the expanded recall of 2008 – 2011 vehicles affected by the out-of-spec switch would cost the automaker $40 million, and that 109 vehicles not under the recall may have received the defective part, as well.

Finally, Fortune magazine senior editor-in-chief Allan Sloan posits that Barra was thrown under the bus GM built in the 13 years prior to then-CEO Dan Akerson passing the torch to her late last year. He also suggests that instead of the federal government, the media and the general public taking her to task for everything wrong with GM as of late, blame should be laid at the feet of the correct people involved in setting the stage: Rick Wagoner, Ed Whitacre and Akerson.

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Horn: VW Phaeton To Return To US In 2018 Fri, 18 Apr 2014 11:00:18 +0000 phaetons

In an interview with Bloomberg at the 2014 New York Auto Show, Volkswagen America CEO Michael Horn says the Phaeton will return to the United States market as early as 2018.

Autoblog reports the full-size luxury sedan — which last sold in 2006 on our shores — has been under consideration by the automaker for a return sometime between 2018 and 2019. No word has been given on whether or not the 2018 Phaeton will be underpinned by the Bentley Continental Flying Spur, as it was the last time the sedan was sold.

Whether the return will be marred once more by customers scoffing at the idea of paying Audi-A8 money for a VW badge depends on what Horn does to improve dealer relationships, which are strained between the automaker and the network as of late. Currently, both sides are in negotiations regarding improvements to bonuses, marketing and other issues in the hope narrowing the “great distance” between the two parties.

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GM Internal Investigation Hindered By Corporate Culture Tue, 15 Apr 2014 10:58:40 +0000 GM Next

Bloomberg reports now-former General Motors engineer Brian Stouffer conducted a two-year internal investigation into the out-of-spec switch at the heart of the automaker’s current recall crisis, only to find confusion and resistance along the way to finding answers as to why vehicles up through 2008 were stalling out. In addition, Stouffer reported to three different executives assigned to the investigation in one year as it moved along, as well as the lack of sufficient cases that met the criteria required. Only in late 2013, when Delphi responded to Stouffer’s inquiry by providing the document showing the changes made to the switch back in 2006, did the investigation come to a head.

Automotive News posits that the link between the out-of-spec switch and the 13 fatalities under the spotlight may have been muddied under other circumstances focused upon the drivers involved, ranging from being unbelted and driving under the influence, to speeding and lack of experience behind the wheel. Further, both police and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration didn’t immediately make the link between the switch and undeployed airbags, the former citing numerous instances and the various reasons behind each failure.

Though it would appear as though GM were the new kings of recalls as of late, Boston-based used-car shopping site iSeeCars compiled data of the top 15 automakers who sold vehicles in the United States between 2005 and 2014, and found the automaker among the middle of the recall list with 96 recalls for every 100 vehicles sold. Toyota took the No. 1 spot with 167 recalls per 100 sold, while Mercedes-Benz took last place with 38 per 100.

Within GM, public relations head Selim Bingol and human resources chief Melissa Howell have both left the automaker “to pursue other interests.” The departures are not related to the recall crisis, according to spokesman Greg Martin, explaining the exits as “a part of any transition where the CEO makes changes and puts together her leadership team.” That team will now consist of John Quattrone, who will head the human resources department CEO Mary Barra ran until 2011, while head of investor relations Randy Arickx will serve as interim PR chief until a permanent replacement is found.

Finally, The Wall Street Journal reports Opel may finally break even ahead of a 2016 target date after years of seeing red. The charge toward equilibrium is being cautiously led by CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann, whose changes to the company — including the closure of a plant in Germany, a $6 billion investment in Europe, and the introduction of 23 models by 2016 — have helped Opel see a rise of 3 percent in European Union sales during the first two months of 2014. The news follows similar signs of hope for GM overall, as Automotive News adds Cadillac’s and Buick’s first-ever wins in J.D. Power & Associates’ 2014 Customer Service Index, as well as the Chevrolet Equinox/GMC Terrain twins being the only two midsize SUVs to receive a “good” rating by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the small-overlap test as small victories for the automaker.

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New PSA Boss Tavares Prepares To Rebuild Company Mon, 14 Apr 2014 14:15:58 +0000 Carlos Tavares

Though PSA Peugeot Citroen secured funding in a three-way deal between itself, the French government and Dongfeng, new boss and former Renault COO Carlos Tavares has a hard road ahead of him as he rebuilds the ailing automaker.

Reuters reports Tavares will focus using the joint venture it shares with Dongfeng to go after 1.5 million sales by 2020, bring exports to Southeast Asia and establish a research center. He will also tighten up both working capital and the number of models sold in each market, as well as squeeze savings from PSA’s suppliers.

However, development woes, pricing issues on some models, and the use of heavy discounts and incentives are all roadblocks on Tavares’ “Back in the Race” plan expected to be issued in full Monday, as well as currency challenges in Latin America and Russia and lower-cost products from around Asia.

As part of the plan, Tavares is expected to halve the number of models it currently offers. On the bright side, the 308 and 2008 both delivered a combined 5.2 percent sales increase in the first two months of 2014, as well as an 8.5 percent Q1 2014 gain over PSA’s home market.

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Dealers Still Waiting For Replacements, DeGiorgio Linked To Original Design And Upgrade Mon, 14 Apr 2014 14:00:51 +0000 GM ignition diagram

Automotive News reports dealers are still waiting for the ignition switches meant to replace the out-of-spec switch at the center of the ongoing recall crisis at General Motors. The switch was to have arrived at dealerships beginning this week, yet most dealers are in a “holding pattern” on deliveries. Once the parts do arrive, service bays will begin work on affected customer vehicles immediately before turning toward the used lot, where vehicles under the recall are currently parked until the customer vehicles are fixed.

As for GM seeking help from NASA with its woes, however, The Detroit Bureau learned from NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Communications Bob Jacobs that his employer “is not working with General Motors on its ignition switch issue”; a separate source claimed “low-level” discussions between the two were taking place, but hasn’t gone any further thus far. He added that while NASA would be more than willing to help GM, a formal request would require some coordination between the agency and both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Justice Department so as to not interfere “with their own, ongoing investigations of the GM ignition switch recall.”

Speaking of the Justice Department, Reuters says five senators, including Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Barbara Boxer of California, penned a letter asking Attorney General Eric Holder to “intervene in pending civil actions to oppose any action by GM to deny responsibility for damages”:

We write to request your immediate intervention and assistance on behalf of victims of severe damage – financial harm, physical injury, and death – resulting from serious ignition switch defects in General Motors (‘GM’) cars.

The aforementioned actions may be in reference to the liability shield erected upon the automaker’s 2009 exit from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, where “New GM” is only responsible for the claims linked to the switch from June 2009 forward.

That division within the company may be more of a thin line than a 4-inch-thick steel plate, however, as Autoblog reports an investigation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee uncovered an email exchange between the NHTSA and GM last July to discuss the latter’s “indifferent attitude toward safety issues” face-to-face. The agency cited the automaker’s slow response to urgent matters and preference toward regional recalls over full recalls as two examples of GM not having changed much since leaving bankruptcy.

Bloomberg adds the agency itself didn’t do enough to take GM to task on its attitude toward safety, though, based on a memo unearthed by the committee regarding airbag failures on a number of Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions with warranty claims being four times’ higher than similar competitors. The decision to investigate those claims was rejected by a review group within the NHTSA, believing the airbag issue “did not stand out” among other incidences of failure.

Automotive News reports the committee also found an email chain that ties GM engineer Ray DeGiorgio — who denied having knowledge of the April 2006 change to the ignition without a change to the part number — with said change. In short: DeGiorgio signed-off on both changes to the spring and plunger to help prevent the slipping issue now linked to 13 fatalities and 33 accidents, as well as on the decision to retain the original number issued to the part he designed for the Saturn Ion as his first project for GM in 2001.

Regarding the Ion, Reuters says the troubled development of the compact vehicle — and the equally troubled relationship between GM and supplier Delphi — may have laid the groundwork for the current recall crisis. The supplier alerted the automaker about the out-of-spec switch, but fearing an embarrassing introduction, money issues, and the possible wrath of then-vice chairman of product development Bob Lutz, GM pressed ahead with the switch as-is.


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Wolff Out, Woodhouse In As Lincoln Design Director Fri, 11 Apr 2014 10:00:54 +0000 Max Wolff, Lincoln Exterior Design Chief

The Lincoln division of Ford has replaced former design director Max Wolff with David Woodhouse, the former head of the Blue Oval’s Premier Automotive Group, as part of the premium division’s $1 billion makeover.

Bloomberg reports Wolff will remain with Lincoln as the brand’s exterior design boss, and that the change occurred in December with little fanfare, as Ford no longer issues press releases for promotions below the vice president level, according to spokesman Stephane Cesareo. Both design chiefs were brought over from General Motors to Ford, with Wolff arriving in 2010 from Cadillac, and Woodhouse from GM’s design studios in 1999.

Wolff’s biggest mark on Lincoln is the current MKZ, which he reworked immediately upon arrival in 2010. Though the premium sedan — based upon the Ford Fusion — faced production problems that saw the overall brand’s sales fall to a low not seen in over 30 years, the MKZ’s success boosted Q1 2014 sales to 36 percent.

Aside from his styling work with PAG, Woodhouse was in charge of Ford’s advanced design studio in California between 2004 and 2009, and guided Lincoln’s strategy between July through December of 2013 before becoming the brand’s new director of design.

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UAW Subpoenas Haslam, Corker To Appear At VW NLRB Appeal Hearing Fri, 11 Apr 2014 09:30:50 +0000 Governor_Bill_Haslam

Tennessee governor Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker are just two of the 20 prominent Tennessee witnesses subpoenaed by the United Auto Workers to appear at the union’s hearing before the National Labor Resource Board later this month, where the UAW will appeal the results of the organizing election held at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga back in February of this year.

The Detroit News reports the 20 witnesses subpoenaed are ordered to bring emails and documents related to a state government incentive made to VW in the aim of bringing production of a planned midsize SUV to Tennessee. Outgoing UAW president Bob King defended his union’s decision:

The purpose of the NLRB’s investigation is to determine the truth concerning the third-party interference in the February election at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant. The NLRB’s rules call for the use of subpoenas as part of this truth-seeking exercise. The UAW hopes that all parties who receive subpoenas will fully comply by providing the NLRB with the requested documents and with their testimony.

The action comes on the heels of an exposé conducted by Nashville CBS affiliate WTVF-TV regarding documents linking the Haslam administration to an incentive proposal made to the German automaker on the alleged condition the plant in Chattanooga remain unorganized; the proposal was withdrawn in January ahead of the election.

Among the others subpoenaed by the UAW include Tennessee house speaker Beth Harwell, economic development commissioner Bill Hagerty, and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.

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GM Fined $28k By NHTSA, Places 2 Engineers On Paid Leave Thu, 10 Apr 2014 14:56:25 +0000 Rencen. Picture courtesy GM

Associated Press reports General Motors has placed two engineers on paid leave as “an interim step” in the investigation conducted by former U.S. attorney Anton Valukas. Spokesman Greg Martin declined to name the two engineers in question.

The Detroit News reports GM has been fined $28,000 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for failing to answer in full by the April 3, 2014 deadline the 107-question survey sent to the automaker regarding the recall of 2.6 million vehicles with an out-of-spec ignition switch linked to 13 fatalities and 33 accidents. Furthermore, the agency will fine GM $7,000/day so long as the automaker continues to fail to comply with the inquiry in full, and may call in the Justice Department to sue GM for answers and fines.

As for how this came to pass, GM says it couldn’t provide all of the answers as the outside investigation by Valukas had yet to be completed. Meanwhile, spokesman Greg Martin defended the automaker’s response to the survey, citing the millions of related documents already delivered to the NHTSA as proof of compliance.

The agency may not be alone in its dimming view of GM, however, as concerns running through Wall Street have sent price targets of GM stock downward amid gloomy forecasts of rising costs, diminished earnings and other challenges outside of the recall crisis. Analysts for Morgan Stanley and RBC Capital Markets have dropped their target prices of $49 and $47 per share to $33 and $46, respectively, with the former downgrading GM stock to “underweight.”

Without the crisis, however, the automaker still has rough seas ahead after emerging from government ownership, with Wall Street fearing for the long-term future of GM in the face of strengthening Japanese automakers — bolstered by a weakened yen — dependency on its joint ventures in China, problems in Europe and other international markets, and domestic challenges from Ford and Tesla.

In other financial news, Bloomberg reports former GM financial arm Ally Financial’s exit from U.S. Treasury ownership would allow Ally to take on more subprime auto loan borrowers. The finance company currently holds 11 percent of its portfolio in such loans, and at $25/share in its IPO, the $2.83 billion raised would give Ally a boost in attracting more subprime borrowers.

However, both CreditSights Inc. analyst Jesse Rosenthal and independent banking consultant Bert Ely shared concerns regarding the finance company’s reliance on auto loans, especially in the subprime market, citing the lack of diversification other consumer-finance companies or large banks possess in weathering the credit risk subprime auto lending could bring. Bloomberg adds that Ally’s relationship with GM — 39 percent of its lending and leasing portfolio came from the automaker in 2013 — could add an additional risk in light of the latter’s ongoing recall crisis.

Finally, Automotive News presents a history of failure between GM and its suppliers over the functionality of the ignition switch in Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions, leading to numerous changes, complaints, claims and, a decade later, a recall crisis that may bring more pain than the automaker could bear.

The first problem — Ion owners not being able to start their vehicle in cold weather — prompted the 2004 redesign currently linked to the recall, then quietly changed in April 2006 when the second and third problems — Cobalt owners not being able to shut off their vehicle unless they accidentally bumped their knee into the ignition — led to the conclusion by two engineers that the switch was mounted too low, and that it was “falling apart.”

Furthermore, in the deposition given by engineer David Trush in the case regarding the 2010 death of Brooke Melton behind the wheel of her Cobalt, Trush stated GM had its supplier at the time make replacement parts for the first ignition problem alongside a service bulletin asking dealers to install the new part in affected cars; the automaker changed suppliers in 2008, citing deficiencies in quality and production in the former supplier.

Lastly, nearly two years before the recall in April of 2012, GM began offering to replace the switch on 2007 – 2009 Cobalts and Pontiac G5s and 2008 – 2012 HHRs for free, citing a “binding condition” with the cylinder and its housing which could prevent basic functionality of the ignition system.

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Off-Lease Consumers Add Fuel To New-Vehicle Demand Wed, 09 Apr 2014 14:15:54 +0000 Cadillac-Pre-owned

New-vehicle sales are on the rise due not only to demand originally held back by the Great Recession, but by consumers coming off of their leases for their next latest and greatest.

Automotive News reports Manheim Auctions chief economist Tom Webb proclaimed that off-lease volume will be on par with new-vehicle sales throughout 2014 before surpassing sales the following year and into 2016, forecasting over 3 million new leases signed in that year alone:

If you consider that new vehicles are increasingly being bought by high-income households that do, in fact, want to trade on a regular cycle, then they should be in a lease, not a retail contract.

Webb added that since residual risk “always has to reside somewhere,” the perfect place for such risk would be none other than the lessor “who has a portfolio of vehicles and hopefully also has a professional remarketing arm.”

Speaking of remarketing, Webb says the certified pre-owned market is in good health, with sales of CPO vehicles outpacing the off-lease market for the third consecutive year in 2014, with the latter providing the foundation stones for the former.

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Lemon Law King Sues Tesla In Wisconsin Circuit Court Tue, 08 Apr 2014 13:15:57 +0000 tesla-model-s-09

Wisconsin lawyer and self-proclaimed “Lemon Law King” Vince Megna has filed a lawsuit in Milwaukee County Circuit Court against Tesla under the state’s lemon law.

Green Bay Press Gazette reports the lawsuit, filed on behalf of Robert Montgomery of Franklin, Wisc., takes the automaker to task for failing to refund Montgomery’s $99,515 after his 2013 Model S Performance was in the shop for various issues — including failure to start and inoperable door handles — for over 30 days; Wisconsin’s law requires manufacturers to either replace a defective product under warranty after four attempts in one year to fix a defect, or to refund the affected customer. The refund request was made in November 2013.

Megna told the newspaper that under the lemon law then-in affect when Montgomery purchased his Tesla, his client could receive double damages should the court side in their favor. The lawyer also posted a video on YouTube outlining the case and subsequent filing, with a cameo from a cardboard cutout of famed Tesla owner George Clooney.

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Henry Ford: An Interpretation. Did He Make the World A Better Place, Or Not? Tue, 08 Apr 2014 12:30:04 +0000 IMG_0076

Just like yesterday night, April 7th, it was raining in Detroit on the night of April 7,1947. There was extensive flooding on the Rouge River and 83 year old Henry Ford had spent part of the day at he beloved Greenfield Village, making sure that it was not damaged. The next day he was planning on touring Ford facilities in southeastern Michigan to see how the flood had affected his factories. After returning to Fair Lane, the estate that Henry and Clara built on the Rouge, the two had dinner by candlelight, as the flood had also knocked out the estate’s powerhouse. That must have been a disappointment to Henry, as his primary interest seems to have been power. Before his automotive ventures, Ford was chief operating engineer of the Edison Illuminating Co. of Detroit.


At dinner, Henry and Clara discussed the 100 mile trip he was planning for the next day. As was his custom, he retired to his bedroom at 9 p.m. A little bit after 11, Henry called Clara to his bedside. He complained of a bad headache and said that his throat was dry. He was having a stroke, though Clara did not know that. She gave him a glass of water. Clara then sent her maid, Rosa Buhler, to wake Robert Rankin, the Fords’ chauffeur who had an apartment above the estate’s garage, to tell him to fetch a doctor. The phone lines were out from the flood and Rankin had to drive over to the Ford Engineering Laboratories, about a half mile from Fair Line find a working phone. Rankin called Dr. John Mateer of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.


Clara Ford also sent for two other people to come to Henry’s deathbead. Her grandson, Henry Ford II, and Evangeline Dahlinger. Henry the second lived at his parents’ estate on Lake Ste Claire, north of Grosse Pointe. It’s probably not coincidental that Edsel and Eleanor built their home about as far away from Fair Lane as they could and still be somewhere in the Detroit area. Henry alternately doted on Edsel and, afraid that he’d be the effete and soft son of a rich man, Ford would embarrass his son in front of others, supposedly to toughen him up.


Henry was a bit more consistent with the way he treated Evangeline Dahlinger. Unlike Edsel and Eleanor, Evangeline, lived close by to Henry in a stately home just up the Rouge from Fair Lane, a home that Henry built for her and her husband Ray, Ford’s former driver. She first met Henry, 30 years her senior, when she got a job in 1909 as a 16 year old stenographer in Ford’s Highland Park factory. After the Dahlinger’s marriage, Ray was given the job of traveling the world scouting out locations for Ford factories. That made it convenient for Henry’s nocturnal cruises up the Rouge in the quiet little electric boat he had made for Clara. A private staircase led from the Dahlinger’s boat well to Mrs. Dahlinger’s separate bedroom.


It’s said that the only time Clara ever stood up to Henry, an indomitable man if there ever was one, was after the death of their only son Edsel in 1943. Years earlier, after buying out his partners and investors following the huge success of the Model T, Henry distributed Ford stuck thusly: 49% for himself, 48% for Edsel, and the remaining 3% for Clara. After Edsel died in 1943 and Henry reasserted operational control of Ford Motor Company, Clara and Eleanor threatened Henry that they would sell the 51% of Ford that they owned if he would not abdicate and let his grandson and namesake run the company. Though she stood up for her grandson, Clara was more tolerant of her husband’s behavior when it came to Evangeline Dahlinger, Henry’s longtime mistress and likely mother of a second Ford son. By his death, Clara obviously had made her peace with the role Evangeline played in Henry’s life.


After waking the chauffeur, the maid returned to Henry’s bedroom where she heard Clara say, “Henry, speak to me.” He seemed to have stopped breathing and Mrs. Ford asked Buhler, “What do you think of it?” Rosa replied, “I think Mr. Ford will be leaving us.” By the time Dr. Mateer got to Fair Lane, the man who put the world on wheels was dead.

Unlike the Egyptian style tomb, complete with sphinxes were the Dodge brothers’ widows interred them, Clara buried Henry in a simple grave in the still well-kept private cemetery that had been used by her adoptive family, the Aherns (also spelled O’Hern) since before William Ford, Henry’s father, immigrated from Ireland. It’s on the south side of Joy Road (named after another automotive pioneer, Henry Joy, who made Packard a great marque), just west of Greenfield Road. The oldest date on a stone there that I could find was 1821. Before her death Clara left an endowment for an Episcopal church to be built next to the small cemetery. It’s called St. Martha’s and it’s still consecrated, and maintained, though it looks inactive and I haven’t been able to determine if it ever functioned with a congregation. Clara looks to have been the last person buried there. Most people assume the wrought iron above and around Clara and Henry’s final resting places is not for decoration but rather to prevent vandalism. The truth, though, is that only a relative handful of people who drive by have any clue who’s buried there.

When I visited Ford’s grave site yesterday, at least one other person remembered the date. Someone had left some kind of makeshift memorial at the foot of Henry’s grave consisting of two cups each of two different liquids, and four small pieces of what looked like bread. I’m not sure of the significance but I didn’t want to disturb it. I’m not sure if any Ford family members came to pay their respects, or if any have been there in years. Eleanor and her children are said to have blamed Henry at least in part for Edsel’s death.

As if to put an exclamation point on the location she and Edsel chose for their home, though it was a certainty that Henry would rest with his ancestors, Eleanor decided to bury Edsel at Woodlawn Cemetery on Woodward, near the grave of his good friend Hudson chief Roy Chapin. None of Henry’s five grandchildren are buried with him.

Henry, who had some backwards notions regarding ethnicity and religion, might show some surprise at his current neighbors. Across the street from the cemetery there’s an Obama branded gas station whose owners have named it after the first black president of the United State. From Henry’s grave site you can also see the green dome and minaret of the mosque next door to the church. On the other hand, if Henry’s spinning, it’s more likely because one great grandkid married a Jew and another married a black man.

Edsel, chief thug Harry Bennett and production whiz Peter Martin were about the only people who worked closely with Ford and didn’t eventually come to a parting of the ways with the man. Perhaps Henry’s most significant talent was surrounding himself with some people who were not just exceptionally talented but that could also work with a megalomaniac and get him to see things their way. One of my favorite books about Henry Ford was written by Samuel Marquis, an Episcopal clergyman who was the Ford family pastor. Ford eventually put his pastor on his payroll, heading Ford’s Sociology Department, but that didn’t prevent Marquis from seeing the truth about his parishioner and boss. Eventually, after Ford felt that Marquis spoke out of turn concerning Ford business he fired him. Bitter from his dismissal, Marquis published a book, Henry Ford: An Interpretation. It’s a nuanced but almost unvarnished look at the man. That’s undoubtedly why the Ford company and family actively suppressed it for decades. I say almost unvarnished because Marquis is uncharacteristically reticent when it came to Ford’s Jew-hatred. Still, it was the only critical book about Ford written by a close associate of his that was published during Ford’s lifetime.

Henry Ford undoubtedly changed the world. Pastor Marquis had his own interpretation of the man’s life. What’s yours? Did Henry Ford make the world a better place, or would we all have been better off if he’d stayed at Edison instead of tinkering around with his Quadricycle?

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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Marchionne: No Money In Small Diesel Cars Tue, 08 Apr 2014 12:15:51 +0000 sergio-marchionne

Bucking a trend that has been gathering steam beyond its traditional European stronghold, FCA head Sergio Marchionne said that FCA’s upcoming product plan, due to be revealed in May, would be light on diesel engines for B and C-segment cars.

Automotive News reports that Marchionne sees no money in placing a clean diesel powertrain into a compact car if it would prevent the compact offering from being “economically viable”:

You can do this on a larger vehicle because of the costs associated with those vehicles. It’s much more difficult to join with a car like [the Chrysler 200 sedan] and keep the margins above normal. Other manufacturers are making the cars. The question of whether they’re making money is a question you should ask them specifically.

FCA has V8 diesels under the hoods of Ram’s heavy-duty pickups, and V6 oil-burners in the Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee. But in Europe, diesels are prominent in Fiat and Alfa Romeo vehicles, particularly in countries where the fuel is subsidized (and gasoline prices are rather high). It would be difficult to imagine these smaller diesels going away entirely, but the oil-burning powertrains will certainly not make it to North America.

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GM Adds Clinton Media Director To Crisis Team Fri, 04 Apr 2014 19:27:37 +0000 Original 5 tower complex, John Portman, 1977

In an interview with New York Magazine, consumer advocate Ralph Nader said General Motors CEO Mary Barra has “a good opportunity” to make serious changes to the corporate cost culture that gave rise to the 2014 ignition recall crisis. Suggestions include appointing an independent ombudsman with a direct line to the president and CEO for engineers who need to speak out about possible problems without having to go through “cost-concerned bosses,” as well as holding accountable all involved in any cover-up of any potential product issues.

Nader also believes the federal government should go after personal prosecutions of those tied to the current recall, but adds that unless the media keeps putting the pressure on the Justice Department to do so, the only thing that could come is a settlement in the vein of the one reached between the agency and Toyota earlier this month.

As for where Barra was during the 14 years it took for the recall to surface, Forbes wove her 34-year-long résumé with General Motors into the recall timeline. In short: Barra would have been made aware of the ignition switch problem as early as 2011, when then-CEO Dan Akerson made her head of global product development, yet it was only in December of 2013 — when the torch was passed from Akerson to Barra — when the new CEO was presented with an analysis of the issue linked to the Chevrolet Cobalt; the recall decision would be presented to Barra by product development chief Mark Reuss at the end of January 2014.

Detroit Free Press reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration received 200,000 from GM in response to the 107-question survey aimed to drill down what had happened leading up to the recall, as explained in a statement issued by the automaker:

The company has submitted some 200,000 pages of documents and will provide today answers to nearly 65% of the questions. GM is cooperating fully with NHTSA and is keeping the agency apprised at every step of its progress as it works to respond to the remaining questions within the Special Order.

The agency will release the documents upon vetting, a process that could take weeks to accomplish.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports the task force appointed by the Obama Administration to manage GM’s bankruptcy proceedings were not made aware of the out-of-spec ignition and subsequent reports linked to its failure. The task force spent more time focusing on what brands needed to be cut and how pensions and health care would be handled, with then-current product-liability claims — totaling $414 million pre-bankruptcy — given a broad look without looking ahead toward future claims.

Within the Capitol, the nation’s lawmakers are considering higher fines and criminal liability in the wake of the two congressional hearings earlier this week. Senator Jay Rockerfeller of West Virginia plans to propose an update to the 2000 TREAD Act in the aim of giving the NHTSA more firepower to take automakers to task over failures to properly and quickly handle potential problems, while regulators would like to boost the agency’s fine limit from $35 million to $300 million.

Back in Detroit, GM has hired crisis-communications expert and former director of media affairs for the Clinton Administration Jeff Eller to join the growing team of experienced crisis managers — including Kenneth Feinberg and Anton Valukas — assembled to guide the automaker through the ongoing recall debacle. Eller worked on the Firestone-Ford crisis in 2000, and will have a number of GM’s allies inside the Beltway on his side.

GM’s partner in the maelstrom, Delphi, may emerge less unscathed if the supplier’s stronger bankruptcy protections hold according to Reuters. Unlike the automaker, Delphi did not assume successor liability during its 2009 bankruptcy proceedings, forcing lawyers to convince any judge who hears their cases that Delphi covered-up the design flaw, and thus, should force “New Delphi” into becoming liable.

Speaking of lawsuits, Bloomberg reports U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in Corpus Christi, Texas is preparing to consider issuing an order to GM to instruct all affected consumers to park their vehicles until the flaw is fixed. The order is part of a class-action lawsuit filed by Robert Hilliard on behalf of Charles and Grace Silvas, seeking as much as $10 billion in lost resale value for the vehicles under the recall. The Detroit News adds Hilliard sent an email to Barra with evidence from an affidavit illustrating that even with the key stripped down to the bone, the switch will still shut the vehicle off, including the airbag system.

Finally, Reuters reports GM dealerships may have more than polar vortices to weather on the sales floor as a result of the recall. Dealers have reported fielding as many as 50 calls per day from concerned consumers over what to do with their affected vehicles, as well as offering more rental cars and taking in more trade-ins. Spokesman Jim Cain offered his view on the situation facing dealers:

Time will tell. In the long term, we will be judged on how we take care of customers. We have advertising incentives and other tools to use if there’s evidence that sales in the short term may be impacted. But we haven’t seen that.

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Barra Testifies Before US Senate Subcommittee Thu, 03 Apr 2014 11:55:13 +0000 U.S. senator accuses GM of 'culture of cover-up'

On the second and final day of testimony before Congress, The Detroit Press reports the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee fired several volleys at General Motors CEO Mary Barra over her lack of answers or greater action during the ongoing GM ignition recall crisis.

Finding no allies from either side of the aisle, Barra faced tough questions and criticisms from the members of the subcommittee, with the toughest attacks drawn from subcommittee head Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. The senator proclaimed former engineer Ray DeGiorgio “repeatedly lied” about knowledge of the April 2006 fix of the out-of-spec ignition switch, citing GM’s “culture of cover-up” as encouragement for egregious violations of the public trust.

Barra’s alleged lack of knowledge of the issues surrounding the switch recall came back to haunt her when Senator Barbara Boxer of California declared the CEO “didn’t know anything about anything,” and wondered why someone with the resume Barra has could not know anything during the 33 years she had been a part of General Motors.

Other highlights from the Senate hearing include:

  • Barra not committing to when GM’s own investigator, Anton Valukas, could be made available for questioning by the Senate, saying the decision was his to make
  • Barra not knowing how many lawsuits have been filed in relation to the out-of-spec switch, nor having been counseled by GM’s general counsel
  • Barra stating no one involved with the recall still under GM’s employ had been fired, would take action if internal investigation determined as such
  • Senator Dean Heller of Nevada wanting supplier Delphi to testify
  • Barra clarifying her comment to the House about sharing information from the internal investigation
  • GM agreeing to share documents provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with the subcommittee

Moving over to The White House, the Obama administration aims to do all they can to get a handle on the case before them, as Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest informed reporters aboard Air Force One during the President’s visit to Ypsilanti, Mich.:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — or NHTSA — has opened a formal investigation to whether GM shared the information they had about this issue as quickly as they should. Secretary Foxx has also asked the inspector general of the Department of Transportation to conduct an audit to provide a single, comprehensive review of NHTSA’s work in this case.

Finally, The Detroit News posits that Barra’s legacy — and that of General Motors — would long be haunted by nine words uttered by an unknown GM engineer in 2005 over fixing the out-of-spec switch: “None of the solutions represents an acceptable business case.”

On the lawsuit front, attorney Dana Taschner — one of the lawyers involved in the 15 lawsuits filed in federal court on behalf of affected Chevrolet Cobalt owners — wants the cases consolidated and sent before U.S. District Judge James Selina in Santa Ana, Calif., according to Bloomberg. Tascher’s reasoning is that Selina, who is presiding over the cases linked to Toyota’s unintentional acceleration debacle, is the right judge for the job of taking GM to task:

The scope of the expanding recall and number of cars and consumers involved will result in a high volume of lawsuits filed in multiple jurisdictions warranting coordinated or consolidated proceeding.

Detroit Free Press reports safety advocate and chairman emeritus of consumer advocacy group Public Citizen Joan Claybrook is calling for reform from both GM and the NHTSA. Regarding the former, Claybrook believes Barra “has more power than any GM executive probably ever had,” and could lead the reform path toward a focus on safety over costs.

As for the latter, Claybrook — who led the agency between 1977 and 1981 — wants the NHTSA to have more resources available to do its duty to the public, change the complaint-filing process for ease-of-use by consumers, and be granted the authority to purse criminal charges against automakers who fail to recall dangerous products.

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Leaked Documents Link Anti-Union VW Incentive Offer To TN Governor’s Office Wed, 02 Apr 2014 14:15:09 +0000 092112_WEB_a_VW_Sign_t618

Leaked documents linked to the United Auto Workers battle for the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. point to a connection between Governor Bill Haslam and the German automaker regarding a $300 million incentive in exchange for over 1,300 jobs at a proposed SUV plant within the state.

WTVF-TV reports the incentives were contingent “to works council discussions between the State of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee.” By the time Volkswagen entered into election talks with the UAW in January, however, the Haslam administration formally notified the automaker that it was withdrawing the offer, citing that it had kept the offer on the table past the 90-day window normally reserved for incentives when the incentive in question had no such expiration date.

Though Haslam has denied any such connection to the incentive — dubbed “Project Trinity” — U.S. Senator Bob Corker claimed as early as February of this year that the offering would be made should the workers at the Chattanooga plant vote against representation by the union.

As for the UAW, organizer Gary Casteel stated the following in response to whether the now-public documents were a game-changer in the union’s appeal to the National Labor Relations Board over the election results:

To me, it puts pressure on the state to do what they should have done in the first place — and that’s give the incentives with no strings attached, just like they would any other company, union or non-union.

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Barra, Friedman Testify Before US House Committee Wed, 02 Apr 2014 14:00:59 +0000 Mary Barra

General Motors CEO Mary Barra and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acting administrator David Friedman both testified before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee in the first of two congressional hearings focused on GM’s 2014 recall of an ignition switch whose issues the automaker nor the agency chose to act upon in a swift manner in the decade leading up to the recall.

The Detroit News reports the hearing between the committee and Barra lasted two and a half hours, and while the atmosphere was calm for the most part, the elusive answers Barra gave to some questions proved frustrating to the bipartisan committee. A possible reason for the vague responses provided by Barra: Any incorrect answers could come back to haunt the company via a charge of misleading Congress by the Justice Department, who is already conducting an investigation into GM’s handling of the recall.

She also pleaded her case for patience from the federal government while the internal investigation into the recall continues, and repeatedly stood by her talking points throughout the questioning. However, when the committee asked if GM would commit to delivering the final report from the internal investigation to Congress, Barra said her company would turn over “what’s appropriate.”

Meanwhile, she revealed GM had hired attorney Kenneth Feinberg to guide the company’s executives for the next 30 to 60 days into deciding how the automaker will proceed to do “the right thing” by their customer base. Feinberg, who helped establish compensation funds for those affected by 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing and the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill, may direct GM to create such a fund for affected owners whose vehicles were involved in crashes prior to the company’s bankruptcy filing in 2009, though Barra said she couldn’t commit to such a fund under questioning, opting to let Feinberg find “the best way forward.”

Following Barra’s testimony, Friedman took his turn before the House committee, defending his agency’s decision not to move forward with a formal investigation into the ignition switch issue, citing lack of data from General Motors in 2007.

He also explained that the NHTSA had voiced concerns about a number of problems GM hadn’t disclosed, such as the silent part-swap in April 2006 or the automaker’s talks with Delphi over air bags. In turn, the committee asked Friedman why his agency missed a number of red flags and failed to connect the dots in what the agency did learn from their dealings with GM. He said his agency followed proper protocol in its final decision in that there was insufficient information to press forward with a formal investigation. Friedman added that the NHTSA aims to improve this process, as well as increasing penalties for actions such as those demonstrated by GM.

The families affected by the recall witnessed the proceedings from the back of the hearing room, hoping to receive satisfactory answers from Barra as reminders of what the automaker’s poor choices had cost them hung above their heads. One of the affected, Mary Ruddy of Scranton, Penn., put it thusly:

I did not care for the answers from Ms. Barra. I thought she was very evasive, and if she’’s that evasive with the United States government… then how can we expect them to be honest with the general public.

Ruddy’s husband, Leo, also bemoaned Barra’s tactics before the committee, summing up the experience as if “it was like talking to Sgt. Schultz ["Hogan's Heroes"] — ‘I know nothing.’”

The Ruddys were among the families who met with members of Congress before a press conference calling for the establishment of a victims’ compensation fund, pulling affected vehicles off the road, strengthen current auto safety legislation, and a criminal investigation of GM by the Justice Department.

Finally, though the Chevrolet Silverado was knocked off of its pedestal by Ram’s offerings since 1999, Automotive News reports the fullsize pickup and its GMC Sierra twin helped boost GM’s overall U.S. light-duty vehicle sales in March by 4 percent to 256,047 vehicles. Overall retail sales also gained in March, rising 7 percent compared to the previous year.

As for the twins, Chevrolet’s sales rose 7 percent in March while GMC experienced a 21 percent growth, all of which is setting the place for upcoming product launches later this year, according to GM U.S. vice president of sales operations Kurt McNeil:

GM’s retail sales, like the weather and the economy as a whole, have been on an improving trend since early February. We expect to see solid economic growth in the months ahead, with the job market, household income and consumer spending all showing positive signs.

It is a strong backdrop for the launch of our all-new heavy-duty pickups, large SUVs and other new products, like the Cadillac ATS coupe coming this summer.

Transaction prices also went up in March, coming out on a record average of $34,000, as well as a 5 percent increase in commercial fleet sales; fleet sales fell by 5 percent in a planned reduction by the automaker.

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Marchionne’s FCA Looks To Sell 6 Million Units Wed, 02 Apr 2014 14:00:40 +0000 marchionne

Should Sergio Marchionne’s Fiat Chrysler Automobiles be able to deliver on his expectations, the merged automaker will be able to move 6 million units annually, enabling FCA to become a player on the global stage.

The Detroit News reports Marchionne met before Fiat’s shareholders in the final meeting at the automaker’s Turin, Italy headquarters before FCA relocates to the Netherlands, stating what he expects out of FCA in the post-merger years to come:

By 2018, Fiat will be able to make more than 6 million cars. I don’t want to give any details of the plan, but we are going in that direction.

For 2014, Marchionne stated FCA aims to sell between 4.5 million and 4.6 million units on the strength of United States and Asia markets, collecting some $128 billion in revenues, and between $828.6 million and $1.1 billion in net profit. The goal of selling 6 million units has been an oft-mentioned one by Marchionne, who believes that the volumes necessary to achieve scale will only increase in the future.

Until then, his current goal is to have Chrysler and Fiat completely merged by the end of 2014, with a multi-year business plan to be presented in Detroit by May. Marchionne believes the new plan can be run “by purely financing on debt.”

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Car Guys & Gals You Should Know About – Roy Lunn’s Resume: Ford GT40, Boss 429 Mustang, Jeep XJ Cherokee, AMC Eagle 4X4 and More! Sun, 30 Mar 2014 14:00:05 +0000 Roy Lunn (on right) receiving an award from the Society of Automotive Engineers for the Eagle 4X4

Roy Lunn (on right) receiving an award from the Society of Automotive Engineers for the Eagle 4X4

You may not have heard the name Roy Lunn, but undoubtedly you’ve heard about the cars that he guided into being. You think that’s an exaggeration? Well, you’ve heard about the Ford GT40 haven’t you? How about the original XJ Jeep Cherokee? Lunn headed the team at Ford that developed the LeMans winning GT40. Later as head of engineering for Jeep (and ultimately VP of engineering for AMC) he was responsible for the almost unkillable Cherokee, Jeep’s first unibody vehicle, a car that remained in production for over two decades with few structural changes and could be said to be the first modern SUV. In addition to those two landmark vehicles, Lunn also was in charge of the engineering for  two other influential cars, the original two-seat midengine Mustang I concept and the 4X4 AMC Eagle. If that’s not an impressive enough CV for a car guy, before Ford, he designed the Aston Martin DB2 and won an international rally. After he retired from AMC, he went to work for its subsidiary, AM General, putting the original military Humvee into production. Oh, he also had an important role in creating one of the most legendary muscle cars ever, the Boss 429 Mustang. So, yeah, you should know about Roy C. Lunn.


Aston Martin DB2. Full gallery here.

Roy C. Lunn was born in 1925 in England. I haven’t been able to find anything out about his childhood, but he must have been a bit of a prodigy. He  earned mechanical and aeronautical engineering degrees and served for two years during World War II in the Royal Air Force, training as a pilot, all by the time he was a legal adult. In addition to his engineering degrees he also had training as a toolmaker and designer, and in 1946 he got his first job in the automotive industry, working for AC cars as a designer at the age of 21. His talent caught the notice of David Brown, who hired him a year later to be assistant chief designer at Aston Martin. Brown put him in charge of the DB2 program. By 1949, he was at Jowett, where he helped prepare the Jupiter sports car for production and had a hand in the development of one of the earliest fiberglass bodied cars. A competitive driver, he shared the saloon class victory co-driving a Jupiter Javelin for Marcel Becquart in the 1952 RAC International Rally of Great Britain. You can see Becquart racing that car in that rally starting at about 1:55 of this video:

Click here to view the embedded video.

After that somewhat peripatetic early career, as Lunn approached his 30s, he settled down and hired in at Ford in 1953 and was put in charge of starting up Ford of England’s new research and development center in Birmingham. His team there developed the original prototype of what would be the 105E Anglia, a critical car to the postwar success of Ford in the UK. Moving to Ford’s Dagenham works, he took on the job of product planning manager for Ford of England and ushered the Anglia into production.

105E Ford Anglia.

105E Ford Anglia.

Emigrating to the United States in 1958, Lunn was made manager of Ford’s Advanced Vehicle Center in Dearborn. He supervised a number of projects including Ford’s first front wheel drive vehicle, the Cardinal, which was developed into the Ford of Germany’s Taunus . While the Anglia and Taunus were important cars for Ford in Europe, they’re both sedans. Lunn’s role in the development of the Mustang I concept is probably of more interest to the average car enthusiast.

P4 Ford Taunus 12M

P4 Ford Taunus 12M

In the early 1960s, an idea that had been percolating around Detroit since Chevy ad man Barney Clark first proposed that GM build a small, sporting four seater with classic long hood short deck proportions finally got the attention of some higher-ups at Ford. Lee Iacocca gave the go ahead to the development of a small sporty car designed to appeal to young adults. Because of Lunn’s experience in racing and as a chief designer, his team was tasked with designing a chassis and mechanical components to underpin a design based on sketches by a young Ford designer named Phil Clark (who quite likely also originated the Mustang name and galloping pony badge). Ford senior designer John Najjar, in an oral history given to the University of Michigan, Dearborn, described Lunn’s role in creating the first Mustang concept car:

Roy Lunn designed all the tubular structure, the suspen­sion, the engines. He got all that equipment built and shipped out to [a fabricator on] the West Coast. It was all put together, we finished our clay model in something like eight weeks’ time, and, I guess, Roy had something like sixty days to build an operable vehicle. To see that thing go from an idea to finished product was an exciting time.

Ford Mustang I concept. Full galleries here and here.

Ford Mustang I concept. Full galleries here and here.

You can read Lunn’s own account of the development of what is now known as the Mustang I. In January of 1963, he published a technical paper with the Society of Automotive Engineers titled, The Mustang – Ford’s Experimental Sports Car. While the four cylinder, two seat, midengine Mustang I didn’t really directly influence the production Mustang, it did end up influencing early production midengine cars like the Lotus Europa and Fiat X/19. Using the V4 engine and transaxle from the Taunus, the Mustang I concept was possibly the first midengine car to move a front wheel drive powertrain to behind the driver. Indirectly, positive consumer response to the Mustang I when it was on the show circuit convinced Ford executives to go forward with the production pony car. 

By 1962 Lunn had became a U.S. citizen. Also, by then Henry Ford the second had been rebuffed in his effort to buy Ferrari. Despite the American car manufacturers’ public disavowal of racing in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Deuce wanted Ford to win, bankrolling efforts in NASCAR, and at Indianapolis with Lotus (a relationship that would also bear fruit in Formula One as the Cosworth Ford DFV engine). When Ferrari wouldn’t sell, HFII decided to beat him at his own game, at LeMans, a race important to Ferrari’s image and the racing world’s biggest stage.

The popular account of the history of Ford’s iconic 1960s racer is that to save time, Eric Broadley’s Lola Mk 6 was developed into the Ford GT40, which itself became the Mk II and Mk IV cars that won four years in a row at LeMans, 1966-69. According to the Ford engineers involved, though, while it was true that Ford used Broadley’s shop and design to jump start their endurance racing effort, the Ford GT40 was not a Lola. To manage Ford’s new GT racing effort, Lunn temporarily moved back to England, joining former Aston Martin factory racing team manager John Wyer at Broadley’s Lola, then little more than a garage. However, while Broadley’s skill at fabrication was respected, he soon was edged out and went on to develop his own very successful (and rather beautiful) competition car, the Lola T70.

One of the original Gulf livery race cars, this GT40 Mk II won LeMans as a privateer in 1968 and 1969. Full gallery here.

One of the original Gulf livery race cars, this GT40 Mk II won LeMans as a privateer in 1968 and 1969. Full gallery here.

In the Spring 1964 issue of Automobile Quarterly, an article based on another of Lunn’s SAE papers said, concerning Ford’s LeMans effort, ”By July, 1963, a basic design and style had been established at Dearborn…”

Ford project engineer Bob Negstad, whose own resume includes designing the suspension of the Shelby Daytona Coupe, worked on the Ford GT project from the beginning and he was sent to the UK to join Lunn and Wyer at Broadley’s shop. Negstad, in an interview quoted at How Stuff Works, though, was adamant that the GT40′s design was Ford’s not Lola’s, though he acknowledged that Broadley did much of the prototype’s original build. A ”brilliant fabricator”, is how Negstad described Broadley, who was trained as an architect, not an engineer.

“Broadley was technically naive,” Negstad said, “a trial-and-error man,” and the Lola shop was a “terribly old, obsolete building lit by a single 40-watt bulb.” He said that Ford was attracted to Broadley to save time. His ability to quickly build what they wanted, along with having a car of similar layout to Dearborn’s plans that could be used as test mule as they refined their own design was what put Ford and Lola together.

The Ford GT was introduced to the press and the public at the New York Auto Show in the spring of 1964. To say it had teething problems would be an understatement. Henry Ford II was increasingly embarrassed by the car’s lack of racing success, but he smartly turned the management of the factory team over to Carroll Shelby, who helped develop the GT40 into a dominant race car as well as putting together a professional racing team. Finally, in 1966, the GT40 finished 1-2-3 at LeMans. Again, Lunn published a technical paper with the SAE, in 1967, this time on the GT40′s development titled ”Development of Ford GT Sports-Racing Car, Covering Engine, Body, Transaxle, Fuel System, Suspension, Steering, and Brakes.”

Because of the involvement of Broadley and the cars fabrication in the UK there may be some debate if the 1966 GT40 was the first “American” car with an overall win at LeMans. The next car that Ford took to LeMans, the GT40 Mark IV, was all American, designed by a team headed by Lunn in Dearborn, built at Kar Kraft in Brighton (Michigan, not England), and driven to victory by Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt.

The 1-2-3 finish at LeMans in 1966, with that famous staged photograph showing all three cars approaching the finish line, was cause for celebration but Lunn was already focused on a new, lighter car. Two candidates were evaluated, a prototype with a tub made of aluminum sheet, designed and fabricated by McLaren Racing Ltd, and an in-house project known as the J-Car (for meeting the standards in Appendix J in the rule book), with a tub made of lightweight 1/2 thick aluminum honeycomb sandwiched between two aluminum panels, with everything bonded together. Lunn, a forward thinking engineer, liked the more modern and very stiff honeycomb material and he convinced his superiors at Ford to go in that direction.

The J-Car and GT40 Mk IV were fabricated using lightweight sandwiched aluminum honeycomb.

The J-Car and GT40 Mk IV were fabricated using lightweight sandwiched aluminum honeycomb.

The first prototype, J-1, had a chassis weight of only 86 lbs, with a total vehicle weight of 2,660 lbs, coming close to meeting Lunn’s goal of a 300 lb weight reduction from the GT40 Mk II. A second prototype, J-2, was built, with Kar Kraft of Brighton, Michigan continuing with the fabrication as Ford had sold off Ford Advanced Vehicles. Unfortunately, the very talented driver, Ken Miles, was killed in a testing accident caused by mechanical failure in the J-2 car. Lunn, working with Ford chassis engineer Chuck Mountain and master fabricator Phil Remington, continued to develop the J-Car, creating a new body with a Can Am style tail, a longer nose on the front of the car and a new roofline that flowed more smoothly, allowing the use of a back window. The restyled car was renamed the GT40 Mark IV. Cars were prepared for the 1967 LeMans race, with J-5 being assigned to American drivers Gurney and Foyt. Henry Ford II was happy with the 1-2-3 finish in 1966, but he wasn’t thrilled about that car’s British origins or the fact that the drivers of the winning car, Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren, were both New Zealanders.

Note the "Gurney bubble" over the driver's seat in the 1967 LeMans winning Ford GT40 Mk IV. Full gallery here.

Note the “Gurney bubble” in the roof over the driver’s seat in the 1967 LeMans winning Ford GT40 Mk IV. Full gallery here.

J-5 needed some special bodywork that the other Mk IVs didn’t have. Dan Gurney is a rarity, a tall racer, and to give his helmet clearance, Kar Kraft had to build in a Zagato style bump in the roof, today known as the “Gurney bubble” that makes the LeMans winner immediately recognizable. Gurney celebrated by spraying the winners’ circle with champagne, initiating a racing tradition that continues to this day.

For 1968, an engine rules change meant Ford could no longer use their big 7 liter / 427 cubic inch big block. Having made his point to Enzo Ferrari and the racing world, the Deuce shuttered Ford’s endurance racing effort, selling the team to JW Engineering, where John Wyer was one of the principals. Wyer managed to convince Gull Oil’s CEO, who had some experience racing his own GT40, to sponsor the team. Gulf had recently acquired a subsidiary that fortuitously used a similar corporate color scheme to Gulf’s orange and dark blue. It was decided that the subsidiary’s powder blue and orange made a better livery for racing cars. It indeed looks great but I have to wonder that if a car wearing those colors had not won LeMans two years running, in 1968 and 1969, 45 years ago, if today we’d still consider that livery so ideal for racing cars.

Designing and building cars that won four years in a row at LeMans would make any automotive engineer’s career a successful one. Lunn’s successful management of Ford’s LeMans effort, though, was just one of his notable accomplishments.

With Ford ending its factory LeMans effort, Lunn turned his attention back to production cars. As the 1960s came to a close, muscle cars were still popular and Detroit was undergoing one of its periodic horsepower wars. Having had success in Trans Am racing and in the showroom with the Boss 302 Mustang, Ford executive Bunkie Knudsen decided to up the ante and went ahead with putting Ford’s biggest performance engine, the big block based 429 cubic inch Cobra Jet V8, into the Mustang. The 429 CJ isn’t just a big block engine, it’s a physically large motor, with spark plugs inserted through the exceptionally wide valve covers. To shoehorn such a big engine in something based on the compact Falcon took some doing. The entire front end of the car had to be reengineered, with narrower shock absorber towers and a different crossmember. The work was jobbed out to Kar Kraft, but the modifications were done at Roy Lunn’s direction.

Roy Lunn was in charge of shoehorning that big and wide 429 Cobra Jet into the Boss 429 Mustang. Full gallery here.

Roy Lunn was in charge of shoehorning that big and wide 429 Cobra Jet engine into the Boss 429 Mustang. Full gallery here.

The Boss 429 would almost be Ford’s last hurrah for the muscle car era. The next iteration of the Boss nameplate would be the larger and slower 1971 Boss 351 Mustang. Perhaps Lunn saw the writing on the wall for the muscle era, with emissions controls starting to be mandated, or perhaps he looked at off-road, as opposed to on-track, performance for his next challenge, or maybe he was just offered more money and a bigger title, but for whatever reason, in 1971, Lunn left Ford to become director of engineering for Jeep, which had recently been acquired by American Motors Corporation.

Lunn’s most notable contributions at AMC reverberate until today. He helped invent the modern SUV and if you drive something with all wheel drive that isn’t truck based, you can thank him as well. The first of those contributions was the original Jeep Cherokee, internally known as the XJ. The XJ platform was Jeep’s first attempt to build a unibody vehicle. Concerned that traditional unibody architecture would not be up to the rigors of being a trail rated Jeep, Lunn’s team came up with what AMC marketers would call the Uniframe assembly. Instead of “body on frame”, the XJ Cherokee was more like body welded to frame. The Uniframe more or less involved integrating a traditional ladder frame into a unibody top hat, welding the two into one very strong structure. Because of those beefy frame rails, to this day some people still believe that the XJ used BOF construction.

Lunn's team designed a unibody for the XJ Cherokee so strong they were able to cut it up to make the Comanche pickup truck. Full gallery here.

Lunn’s team designed a unibody for the XJ Cherokee so strong they were able to cut it up to make the Comanche pickup truck. Full gallery here.

Some have described the Cherokee as being overengineered, which may help explain the Jeep SUV’s legendary durability, on the road and as a production vehicle. Kiplingers listed the XJ Cherokee as  one of “10 cars that refuse to die”, with many late 1980s and early 1990s models reaching 200,000 miles and more when that wasn’t commonplace, particularly with American made vehicles. Starting being built in 1984, it stayed in production in the United States into the 21st century. It lasted even longer in China. The Cherokee was the first American branded car to be made in China, the product of Beijing Jeep, also the first joint venture by an American car company in China. After AMC was acquired by Chrysler, they continued making the Cherokee in China, where it stayed in production as the Jeep 2500 until 2005.


The Cherokee’s architecture was so strong that when AMC decided to make a small truck to compete with the Ford Ranger, the Chevy S-10 and the import trucks, they were able to hack off the back half of the Cherokee’s body, add an X-shaped reinforcement between the frame rails, and bolt on a conventional separate pickup truck bed without losing structural integrity.

The XJ Cherokee didn’t just live a long production life. It’s also said by some to be responsible for the continued survival of Jeep today. The Cherokee’s sales success convinced Chrysler that AMC had viable product that didn’t overlap with vehicles in Chrysler, Plymouth and Dodge showrooms, resulting in Chrysler buying AMC to get Jeep, which continues to thrive.

Lunn’s other major contribution to the automotive world while working at AMC, the Eagle 4X4, accomplished many firsts. Today you can’t sell a luxury car north of the Mason-Dixon line if you don’t offer all wheel drive and now that Fiat Chrysler is joining Subaru with a sub $30,000 2015 Chrysler 200 AWD model, we’re likely going to see AWD proliferate in bread and butter mass market sedans. The Eagle was the first American car based vehicle with all wheel or four wheel drive. It also could be described as the first crossover, a slightly raised passenger car capable of some soft-roading.


The Eagle started out as a skunk works project of Lunn and his team. The first drawings were done in the basement of Lunn’s Ann Arbor home (some very significant cars started out in designers’ and engineers’ basements and kitchens, by the way). Jeep had earlier introduced the first true production full-time four wheel drive system, offering it as an option on their utility vehicles. Based on the Ferguson Formula (FF) full-time all-wheel-drive system invented by Britain’s Ferguson Research Ltd, and developed by AMC/Jeep and the New Process Gear company, the first “QuadraTrac” system used a conventional differential between the front and rear axles. It could be engaged on the fly while driving on pavement, or just left in 4WD mode all the time.


Lunn’s team took a Concord station wagon, jacked it up a few inches, and installed one of Jeep’s Quadra-Trac systems. AMC chairman Gerald C. Meyers saw it and later recalled, “our initial reaction to Lunn’s concoction was, ‘What the hell is it?’ The body was raised an extra four inches for transfer-case clearance and the wheel wells were wide open.” The second oil crisis, in 1979, had caused Jeep sales to dip and Meyers changed  his mind, seeing the concept as bridging the price gap between AMC’s economy cars and their less fuel efficient Jeeps, while giving consumers an option between the lower priced Subaru AWD vehicles and more expensive truck based four by fours from the domestic automakers. It also bridged the gap between two wheel drive cars and hardcore four wheel drive trucks. Muscular plastic fender flares bridged the large gap between the tires and the wheel wells and more body cladding visually lowered the sills.

AMC Eagle 4X4 Wagons. Full galleries here and here.

AMC Eagle 4X4 Wagons. Full galleries here.

As mentioned, Lunn and his engineers used Jeep’s first Quadra-Trac system on their prototype, but a later transfer case from New Process replaced that conventional differential with a unit that used 42 discs spinning in a silicone based viscous fluid. That allowed differential action with less drag (and thus better fuel economy) than conventional units, making it more suitable for a passenger car. Drivetrain drag causing poorer fuel economy has always been an issue with four and all wheel drive systems. The latest AWD system that Fiat Chrysler is installing in the new Jeep Cherokee has a mode that allows the rear axle to freewheel when the trucklet is operating in 2WD. My guess is that Lunn would approve.

Lunn with the chassis and drivetrain from an AMC Eagle 4X4.

Lunn with the chassis and drivetrain from an AMC Eagle 4X4.

At the rear of the Eagle’s automatic transmission is a single speed NPG119 transfer case which sends power to the front and rear of the car, using a Morse Hy-Vo chain to spin the front driveshaft. The viscous couplings in the transfer case are sensitive to velocity and allow slip between the two driveshafts, allowing them to spin at different speeds. What makes everything work is a fluid made by Dow Corning that some call “silly putty” and others call “honey-like”. It is a “fluid-shear force” silicone fluid that has high shear and heat resistance, allowing consistent performance from 40 below zero to over 400 degrees F. The viscous coupling also provided some anti-skid capabilities because the system tends to equalize driveshaft speeds. The front differential was mounted via a bracket to the left side of the engine crankcase and with the lifted suspension, Lunn and his engineers were able to run the right side half shaft underneath the oil sump, allowing the Eagle to retain the Concord’s independent front suspension.

The net result is that torque is transferred to the axle with the most traction, on wet or dry pavement, or, for the matter, on unpaved roads as well. Though it’s tempting to say that the Eagle was ahead of its time, that idiom is usually reserved for market failures. The Eagle, and later the hatchback Spirit based 4X4 were moderate successes for AMC. Of course the Eagle was indeed ahead of its time, anticipating jacked up station wagons with all four wheels being powered, like the Subaru Forester, the Audi Allroad and the Volvo XC models.


As was his practice, Lunn contributed a technical paper on the Eagle to the SAE. It should be noted that at AMC, he also had a hand in the continued development of what began as the AMC inline six and ended up as the Chrysler Jeep 4.0, an engine whose durability matched that of the XJ Cherokee. Five million of those engines were made.


Wrapping up his career at AMC, Lunn returned to performance cars after Renault bought American Motors. He was named president of Renault Jeep Sport, in charge of all AMC and Renault racing in the U.S. Part of that job involved the design of cars for a low-cost spec racing series in the SCCA. Some of Lunn’s 500 Spec Racer Renaults are still being raced today in NASA, while his basic design is still being used by SCCA’s Spec Racer Ford series. Returning to his rallying roots, in 1984, Lunn was in charge of the first ever American entry in the Paris-Dakar rally.


Lunn retired from American Motors Corp in 1985, but that retirement was short lived as he was immediately named VP of engineering for AMC’s AMC General subsidiary, which made mostly buses and military vehicles. The High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), better known as the Humvee, progenitor of the Hummer, that AM General had designed for military use was approaching production. The company was running into issues getting the Army to issue acceptance approvals and Lunn’s task was to fix those problems and get the Humvee into production.

After an accomplished career that spanned over four decades, Lunn left AMC for good in 1987, retiring to homes in Florida and later in Italy. As far as I’ve been able to determine, he’s still alive. To be perfectly frank, until I started working on a post about one of the original Gulf Oil livery cars, the Ford GT40 that won at LeMans in both 1968 and 1969, I had no idea of Lunn’s involvement in the project. Had that been the only notable car he worked on, he would have been worth profiling, but as you have seen, the GT40 was just one of a number of Lunn’s historic accomplishments. As TTAC’s managing editor, Derek Kreindler, told me when I pitched him the story, “talk about an unsung hero”. Even as I edited and buttoned up this post, I discovered additional significant contributions that Lunn made, like his involvement with the Jeep 4.0 Six. I’m hard pressed to think of many other engineers that had a role in developing so many historically important cars as Roy C. Lunn did. He’s undoubtedly a car guy you should know about.

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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GM Call Center Sees Double, Upton Prepares For Hearing Fri, 28 Mar 2014 13:16:23 +0000 Pontiac_Solstice

Automotive News posits an earlier recall would have prevented a majority of fatalities tied to the 2005 – 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt’s ignition switch. According to their research, seven of the eight deaths occurred after April of 2006, when the improved switch was quietly introduced into the supply stream; one of the four fatalities linked to 2003 – 2007 Saturn Ions was found to have occurred after the April 2006 improved part introduction, as well.

Among other findings, only one of the eight Cobalt fatalities did not factor alcohol or seat belts into the equation, two of the eight deaths — one under “Old GM,” one under “New GM” — led to lawsuits that were settled prior to the February 2014 recall, and that some of the families found in their research never had any contact with the automaker.

The findings come from an AN article that examined the timing of various fatalities involving crashes with the Chevrolet Cobalt, with AN’s Nick Bunkley writing

“The research indicates that all of the deaths involved cars built before the switch was redesigned; had GM simultaneously elected to recall the cars, repairs could have been performed before a majority of the fatal crashes happened. It also shows that only one of the 12 deaths occurred after GM emerged from bankruptcy protection in July 2009.”

The Detroit News reports United States Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut penned a letter to General Motors CEO Mary Barra urging her to warn drivers of affected 2003 – 2007 Chevrolet, Pontiac and Saturn products to park their vehicles until the ignition switch linked to the recall is fixed, and the vehicles no longer “present urgent danger” to the general public:

I urge you to issue a stronger warning to drivers of recalled vehicles of the acknowledged risk they are facing, including a warning not to drive recalled cars. This warning should be issued as soon as possible — in advance of your testimony before the subcommittee.

The letter follows a similar call from Texas lawyer Robert Hilliard, who is representing 15 families in a class action suit before federal court, claiming that the public need not even drive the affected vehicles to be affected by the recall. The suit, headed by the Silvas family over loss of resale value in opposition to loss of life as experienced by the other families, will be heard April 4.

Bloomberg reports calls to GM’s Customer Engagement Center in Warren, Mich. — opened in 2013 to improve service and customer retention — have doubled during peak hours since the recall began, as explained by senior vice president for global quality and customer experience Alicia Boler-Davis:

Since GM announced the ignition switch recall, the center has seen more than double the amount of calls during peak times from typical daily call volumes. Up to 100 dedicated, specially trained advisors have been available to quickly assist customers with questions on this issue alone, bringing down the average wait time to less than a minute.

Boler-Davis is among those under the gun by customers and critics alike, Detroit Free Press reports, along with GM vice president of global engineering John Calabrese, global product chief Mark Reuss, and vice president of global safety Jeff Boyer. For her, the customer center is one of the ways GM is hoping to restore confidence in their products:

It shows that we’re available, we’re here to help. We’re wanting to be accessible to them, whether it’s through telephone, whether its through social media, whether they’re wanting to send us e-mails.

The appointment of Boyer to the newly created global safety post also aims to improve the automaker’s image before the general public, according to Reuss:

Jeff is a passionate safety zealot, and he really has been involved with just about every part of the car, including interiors and the computer data engineering of safety.

Back in Washington, D.C., U.S. Representative and House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton of Michigan told Detroit Free Press that he and his colleagues were “very surprised with the revelations that came forward the last couple of weeks” from the various investigations into the recall crisis, and plans to spend the weekend with his staff poring over more than 5,000 documents supplied by GM related to the recall prior to the hearing with Barra and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acting administrator David Friedman April 1:

I don’t know what the response is going to be. Those questions are going to get asked on Tuesday. We don’t have any predisposed conclusions on where this is going. Everything is on the table. We’re going to find out the answers as we should.

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Ford: Gettelfinger Should Be Credited For Saving Company Fri, 28 Mar 2014 12:45:26 +0000 King + Gettlefinger - Ford + Mullaly

Ford’s executive chairman Bill Ford, Jr. told CNBC this week that former United Auto Workers president Ron Gettelfinger “doesn’t get enough credit for helping save Ford.

Automotive News reports the UAW worked closely with the Blue Oval to avoid the fates that befell Chrysler and General Motors in the run-up to the Great Recession, as Ford Jr. explained in a live interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box”:

When our times were darkest in the ’07, ’08, ’09 time frame, the UAW helped our industry get back on its feet, helped Ford get back on its feet. Ron Gettelfinger, the former president of the United Auto Workers, doesn’t get enough credit for helping save Ford.

The chairman went on to say that in the automaker’s darkest hour, he turned to Gettelfinger to “save the Ford Motor Co.” For Ford, this meant concessions by the union, including two-tier wages, overtime pay after 40 hours of work, and giving up vacation time. In turn, the Blue Oval lowered labor cost to $58/hour per employee.

When asked why the UAW was turned away from the South — specifically the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. — Ford, Jr. noted the region’s attitude toward organized labor in general, as well as how the automaker views its workers in comparison:

Surprised? No, because there’s a long history of organizing that didn’t go well in the South. I would say this. We’ve had a great relationship with our workforce. I don’t look at them as union and nonunion but as Ford workers. … We have a lot of second-, third-, fourth-, fifth- and even sixth-generation workers at Ford in our company.

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GM Hits Social Media, As Part Number Debacle Adds Confusion Thu, 27 Mar 2014 13:32:08 +0000 2007 Chevrolet HHR 2LT Special Edition

The latest development in the GM ignition recall fiasc

Automotive News reports Barra recorded and released five short videos for GM’s YouTube channel in an ongoing attempt to minimize the damage to her company’s reputation in the court of public opinion. The overall message of the videos is that the public is the automaker’s compass, and GM will develop “a world class process” of vehicle safety evaluation so that nothing resembling the current crisis occurs in the future.

However, Bloomberg says this trial by fire is only the beginning for Barra’s tenure as GM’s CEO. Slow sales in the United States due to harsh winter weather at the start of the year, mitigating losses in Europe, restructuring of global operations in Australia and South Korea, and currency challenges in Russia and South America all have made their impact on GM’s stock value, falling 14 percent since Barra took the reins in mid-January 2014. She also must contend with Volkswagen — who knocked GM down to third in the Big Global Three trio last year — by maintaining or increasing pace in China against the Germans by as much as 10 percent.

Over in Washington, D.C., safety advocates have found the NHTSA lacks the resources needed to properly investigate provided data that could lead to a prompt recall, just as Congress has done all they could to strengthen the agency via the 2000 TREAD Act established in the wake of the 2000 Firestone-Ford recall case.

Currently, the NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigations saw their numbers fall from 62 to 51 investigators over the years, and operates on an annual budget of $10 million since 2005. Meanwhile, the number of registered vehicles increased to 248 million in the same time, a number proving difficult to monitor — resulting in the recall crises experienced by Toyota and GM — as Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety president Jackie Gillan explains:

The idea of $10 million for an office that’s in charge of the safety of all these vehicles, undertaking investigations and doing the recalls, it’s just ridiculous. You look at the number of people working on this, you look at their inadequate funding, and you think to yourself, no wonder this is happening over and over again.

For their part, NHTSA spokesman Nathan Taylor defended his agency’s record, citing 929 recalls involving over 55 million vehicles in the last seven years as a result of their investigations. In addition, he says automakers paid a total of over $85 million in fines over delays, and notes fatalities related to defects are at an historic low. However, Taylor believes the process could be improved:

[The agency] pursues investigations and recalls wherever our data justifies doing so. NHTSA is constantly looking for ways to improve our process so we can better identify serious safety defects.

On the lawsuit front, Charles and Grace Silvas of Texas have asked U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos to force GM to issue a “park it now” warning to all affected owners not to drive their vehicles until the ignition switch is fixed. The possible class action suit — which could net up to $10 billion in damages — was filed not due to any fatalities experienced by the Silvas, but because the defect’s concealment led to lost resale value.

USA Today reports that Barclays analyst Brian Johnson is predicting that GM will create a settlement fund between $1 billion and $1.5 billion for affected customers, on top of banking $1 billion to pay the potentially sizable fine issued by the U.S. federal government when all is said and done. Johnson says the funds could be funneled through “Old GM,” which would maintain the wall protecting “New GM” from pre-bankruptcy liabilities.

Reuters and USA Today both warn of potential headaches dealerships and repair shops will likely experience as the recall crisis continues to unfold.

One major headache for dealers and independent parts stores will be sifting through the spare parts room to find which ignition is the improved part, and which one is the defective unit. The problem comes from both sharing the same part numbers — GM 10392423 and Delphi D14611 — a move that is considered to be counter to standard operating procedure when fixing a defective part.

For repair shops, this means the only way to tell which part is which — outside of possessing forensic engineering tools — is by disassembling every single ignition related to the recall.

The second issue: Finding enough loaner vehicles for every affected customer. Thus far, GM received 9,000 requests for such vehicles, but despite calling upon rental companies such as Enterprise and Hertz for backup, dealers are having a hard time placing customers in loaners, including Kolar Chevrolet general manager Dwayne Haapanen:

There’s been a bit of a struggle finding the cars. I burned up all my loaner fleet, and we’ve been renting from Enterprise — and now they are out of cars.

Consumers are also having a hard time obtaining a loaner, though quantity isn’t the only issue. GM’s hotline for recall questions and loaner requests has seen long waits for callers, as well as a lack of thorough training for those manning the phones, sometimes leading to request denials. The automaker is adding staffing and improving training to alleviate the problems.

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Gov. Perry Pushing For Direct Sales In Texas To Attract Gigafactory Thu, 27 Mar 2014 13:09:14 +0000 Texas Governor Rick Perry circa January 2014

With the possibility of bringing Tesla’s Gigafactory — and its 6,500 jobs — to Texas, Governor Rick Perry is actively pushing for legislation which would do away with the direct-sales ban currently preventing the EV automaker from doing more than presenting their wares to local customers.

The Dallas Morning News reports Perry took his stance on the issue to FOX Business’ “Opening Bell” earlier this week, explaining that it was in the state’s “best interest” to revisit what he says some people would view as “antiquated protections” for Texas’ franchise dealership network:

The people of Texas will say, ‘We don’t need to be protected. We like to be able to negotiate straight away.’ I think it’s time for Texans to have an open conversation about this, the pros and the cons. I’m gonna think the pros of allowing this to happen outweigh the cons.

Currently, Tesla has two showrooms in Houston and Austin, with a third soon to arrive in Dallas. As of this writing, however, none of the trio can do more than provide visitors with information about Tesla’s lineup, prompting interested parties to complete their purchase online or in a state more favorable to direct sales.

The move to allow direct sales would add another incentive for Tesla to build their Gigafactory in Texas, which Perry proclaims would give his state a much-desired cachet. Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan New Car Dealers Association president Lee Chapman, however, disagrees with the kind of incentive Perry wishes to use in luring Tesla:

The system we have was put into effect by the state to protect consumers and dealers. [Dealers are] always open to discussion, [but] at this point, we have not been given anything to discuss other than the right to sell cars here in exchange for a plant.


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Tesla Business Model Reconsidered In NJ, Talking Point In 2016 Presidential Election Wed, 26 Mar 2014 13:30:25 +0000 tesla-model-s-logo

Even though the door on Tesla’s direct sales model appeared to be closed in New Jersey, the Garden State is reconsidering its position just as the automaker’s way of doing business could find itself a major talking point in the 2016 run for the White House.

Automotive News reports that New Jersey Assemblyman Tim Eustace introduced a bill which would allow Tesla to continue selling its cars to the state’s consumers. The bill, which is the third in a series of actions related to the currently strained relationship between the two parties, comes on the heels of the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission’s decision to reinforce existing law banning direct sales by automakers, which would have unintended consequences for the local economy according to Eustace:

Because of this new rule, an interested buyer looking for more fuel-efficient, environmentally-friendly vehicle options can go look and ask questions about an electric car in New Jersey, but will have to go to Pennsylvania or New York if he or she actually wants to buy the car. How does sending business to other states help New Jersey’s economy?

For their part, the New Jersey Coalition of Automobile Retailers, lobbying on behalf of the state’s franchise dealer network, stressed that while they have no intention of driving Tesla out of business, they only want Tesla to play by their long-established rulebook. Association president Jim Appleton is willing to work with the automaker to a point, however:

We hold as sacrosanct the franchise system. There is no resolution to this problem that allows Tesla to operate outside the franchise system forever. But we’re open to accommodations if Tesla can make the case that there’s a reason why they can’t.

Meanwhile, Tesla has a new ally in the form of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who, in his support for the business model, puts him in opposition of New Jersey governor Chris Christie in the run to represent the Republican base against the Democrat nominee during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

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