The Truth About Cars » michigan The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:58:35 +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 » michigan Michigan Trumpets Award for “Beautiful” License Plate Design That It’s Already Revising Because It’s Illegible Tue, 08 Apr 2014 12:01:41 +0000 Plate-presentation_452201_7

Step back from your monitor and just try to read that license plate.

You know those “wait! what?” moments? So I’m perusing a local news site and I see what is surely a press release from Michigan’s Secretary of State, Ruth Johnson, about how the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association (ALPCA, Inc.) has overwhelmingly voted to select Michigan’s new mostly blue and orange license plate depicting the state’s Mackinac Bridge as the world’s best new automotive registration plate. First released last summer, the new plate portrays one of the world’s great spans against what the SoS’ office calls a “sunrise sky”. The registration numbers are white, the background is mostly orange and an almost parakeet blue. In addition to the press release, the SoS’ office also released a photograph to commemorate the award, with Sec. Johnson, and the Bridge Authority’s chairman and secretary jointly holding up the award. So what could be surprising about that announcement? It took place a couple of weeks after a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office specifically told me that the license plate their office describes as a “beautiful plate” is going to be redesigned due to complaints about illegibility from law enforcement officers.

No mention of that planned redesign was made in the agency’s press release concerning the award. I found out about the change on my own after I noticed, while driving in traffic, that from 100 feet or farther, in full sunlight, it’s much harder to read the plate than most of the other Michigan plates. Those plates typically feature dark blue characters against white backgrounds. What makes the new plates almost impossible to read at distance is that they put white numbers and letters against a medium orange background. There’s just not enough contrast. Though the reflective beads on the characters give them a darker cast when illuminated at night, that grey against orange is also very difficult to read.

It's a little easier to read close up.

It’s a little easier to read close up.

After I first noticed how hard the new plates were to read, I looked at the Secretary of State’s web site, or at least the parts that allow comment, and I noticed that I wasn’t the only person complaining about the new plates’ illegibility. My first thought was that if I and other regular folks are having a hard time reading the new plates, what about cops? My second thought was that maybe, since many police cars are now equipped with infrared license plate scanners, perhaps law enforcement doesn’t care that they can’t be read by humans. To find out if they were aware of the problem, I called the SoS’s media office and a spokesperson got back to me.


Though people have been complaining about the lack of contrast since the plates were issued, the Secretary of State’s office apparently took particular notice when they started getting complaints from law enforcement. The agency’s spokesperson referenced complaints from law enforcement as the reason for the revision.

It turns out that I was wrong about police being able to rely on license plate scanners, though they are part of the story. Not only are the new plates difficult to read with the human eye, our new surveillance robots have a hard time deciphering them too. I guess the infrared signature of the two colors are too similar, because the spokesman told me that testing showed that license plate scanners also had difficulty reading the new design, which was created by Brian Whitfield, a Michigan Department of Transportation employee.

As a result of those complaints from law enforcement, I was told that the new license plate will undergo a revision.

Since my day job involves layout and lettering, I suggested that a black outline around the characters would work just fine, but according to what the SoS’ spokesperson told me, they’re going to use a darker color for the plate numbers to make them easier to read, by humans and by machines. The new plate colors have been tested to make sure that license plate scanners can indeed read them.

The ALPCA has been making the award since 1970 and last year they opened it up to a world wide competition. ALPCA members worldwide submit nominations and then vote based in part on the “overall attractiveness of the license plate design”. “I knew it had an excellent chance of winning the moment I first saw it,” said Gus Oliver, ALPCA’s Best Plate Award Coordinator. This was the second time Michigan won the award, the state’s U.S. bicentennial 1976 plate having previously won.

The license plate collectors make their evaluations based on photographs, not the actual license plates, so they had no way of knowing just how illegible the plates are in real life. I spoke to Mr. Oliver and he said that he recently heard rumors that the plate might be changed.

I don’t take any issue with their award of the prize in the first place. I like it when people say nice things about my state. I do think that it’s a bit inappropriate, though, for Ms. Johnson and her office to brag about Whitfield’s design receiving plaudits for its beauty at the same time that they are changing the design because the original didn’t quite work as an actual license plate.

For the record, though I’m fine with the award, I personally didn’t like the plate before I realized how illegible it was. When I first saw the new plate design, my thought was that with those shades of blue and orange, it looked more like license plate for New Mexico, Arizona or California than for the Great Lakes state, the water-winter wonderland.

If you’re looking for a specific license plate for a project or for your wall, ALPCA has a number of state and regional meets, plus Canadian and European license plate collectors also have their own get togethers.

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 Closes Chapter On Canadian Minivan Plant Mon, 17 Mar 2014 13:01:27 +0000 Chrysler Windsor Assembly

While celebrating the successful turnaround for Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s Sterling Heights, Mich. plant, CEO Sergio Marchionne proclaimed the issue of upgrades made to the Windsor, Ont. plant with help from Canadian federal and provincial governments one no longer worth discussing.

Automotive News reports FCA pulled out of discussions with Canada over a $2 billion upgrade incentive package that would secure the long-term future of the plant after politicians referred to the request as “ransom” and “corporate welfare,” according to Marchionne:

Chrysler is not in the business of accepting handouts. And if provincial and federal authorities in Canada think that’s the way to attract foreign investment, I think they are in for a big shock.

It doesn’t matter. It’s gone. That chapter is closed. Fiat-Chrysler has moved on. The agenda, from my standpoint, is complete.

Regarding Sterling Heights, where the Chrysler 200 will go into production this week, the plant’s upgrade as “an apt symbol of how far Chrysler has come because of the courage and resilience of [its] people,” Marchionne explained. The plant was due to close in 2010, only to return to life through a $1 billion investment made in light of the success behind the restyled and renamed compact, and the capacity needed to fulfill demand.

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Ur-Turn: What It’s Worth Fri, 07 Mar 2014 13:00:21 +0000 abemiata

Abraham Drimmer writes about moving from South Florida to Michigan in his Miata

“You need to sell your car”, my father told me, when I informed him of my imminent departure. I got the call in mid-October, I’d be leaving Miami for Ann Arbor on short notice. “That thing is going to be absolutely worthless in the snow”.

A two-week notice later and I’m on the road, every artifact of my existence in this corporeal realm crammed into the 51.1 cubic feet combined passenger/cargo volume of my sunlight silver 2005 Mazda Miata. I reached Michigan safely, and promptly fitted a set of snow tires.

As I watched the little roadster gather a coat of fine salt, the wheel wells bulging with weeks of accumulated snow and grime, I mulled my father’s words. Was he right? Was keeping the car that act of youthful automotive hubris we all eventually regret? Is the Miata any good in the snow?

The Miata’s winter competency is subjective. Which do you prefer: control, or the illusion of stability? The back steps out often, understeer isn’t so much pronounced as it is happening constantly. Still, it’s light and subsequently brakes and handles predictably. The feedback is great, the car never lies to you. I like it that way; I’d rather be told of my imminent destruction than have it carried out with no warning. This characteristic speaks to my heritage, speaks to the heritage of Mazda.

There isn’t enough cargo room to allow you to shop at Costco, good —buy local or whatever. It also prevents you from stockpiling, forces you to leave the house regularly for provisions, keeps you social. Important in the coldest months.

It’s small, so it’s easy to brush snow off of. When the windshield isn’t obscured the heat from the sun evaporates the melted snow collecting in the floor mats, creating a sort of balmy greenhouse effect in the cabin. I like that as well, it reminds me of Miami.

Above all it’s engaging, physically and emotionally. You simply have to be a competent driver to get from point A to point B. You need to plan your route, check conditions, and dress appropriately. A pain, I know, but isn’t that what enthusiasts always talk about? Driver engagement? Isn’t that was we want? To be involved enough with our vehicles such that our conveyance from location to location is imparted with at least some fleeting sense of narrative? Sure I’m in a privileged position, what with no children, pets, or sense of self-preservation, I openly admit I have a lifestyle that can afford such inconveniences. Do I feel inconvenienced? Hardly, when I pick up my keys in the morning I’m happy.

That’s worth something, right?


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Government-Sponsored Do-Nothing Battery Plant Finally Plans To Do Something Mon, 06 May 2013 15:56:52 +0000

South Korean LG Chem will finally begin commercial battery production at its Holland , Michigan, in July, Reuters says.  The batteries will initially help power GM’s Volt.

Three years ago, at a groundbreaking ceremony for an LG Chem Battery plant in Holland, Michigan, President Obama promised that this and other pants will be “a boost to the economy in the entire region.” The plant made headlines for doing nothing.

Half of the plant’s $300 million price was funded by the tax payer, courtesy of a $150 million government grant. Its workers “had little work to do and were spending time volunteering at local non-profit organizations, playing games and watching movies at the expense of the federal government and taxpayers,” Gregory Friedman, inspector general at the Department of Energy, concluded in a report.

The has not started production because “demand for electric vehicles such as the Volt has been lower than expected,” LG Chem told Reuters.

How many batteries will be built is unknown, but “volume is expected to consistently increase depending on the electric vehicle market and securing additional contracts,” LG Chem promises.

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Obama Trash Talks About Right To Work Tue, 11 Dec 2012 14:06:56 +0000

President Obama joined the debate about Michigan’s “right-to-work” law. “What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money,” Obama told workers during a visit to the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Michigan. He forgot to mention three important items.

  • The right-to-work law will put unemployed people in Michigan back to work. Given the choice, investments into new factories prefer right-to-work states.
  • Under the two-class system negotiated by the UAW, new hires already make much less money.
  • In a right-to-work state, workers have the right yo work for more money, because they cannot be forced to pay union dues.

According to Reuters, “the new laws are not expected to have much immediate impact because existing union contracts would be preserved, they could, over time, further weaken the UAW, which has already seen its influence wane in negotiating with the major automakers.”

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Soon, The UAW Might Call A Right To Work State Home Thu, 06 Dec 2012 19:04:21 +0000

This is going to be interesting: Michigan lawmakers are expected to introduce right-to-work legislation today,  Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder is for it, the UAW, headquartered in Detroit, Michigan is fiercely against it.

Hundreds of unionized workers converged on the state capital of Lansing today to voice (loudly) their opposition against the law. Reuters already talks about a repeat of Wisconsin where a similar law in 2011 “sparked massive protests and unsuccessful efforts to recall Republican Governor Scott Walker.”

Michigan had the fifth highest percentage of workers in the country who are union members in 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.


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And the Real Winner Is… Mon, 18 Jul 2011 05:19:02 +0000
If you want to contend for 24 Hours of LeMons racing’s top prize, the Index of Effluency, choosing a terrible Malaise Era subcompact gives you a big edge. Choosing a General Motors product also helps. Going with a diesel or, even worse, a Chevette Diesel, means that you pretty much have the Index of Effluency nailed down if you can manage to keep the thing on the track for most of the weekend. Easier said than done, of course, but Zero Budget Racing managed to do just that with their ’82 Chevette Diesel.

This car managed about five laps at its Gingerman debut back in April, limping to an ignominious halt in a cloud of busted-Isuzu-engine smoke while the snowflakes swirled. That’s about what you expect from this sort of car, but Zero Budget didn’t give up. No, they didn’t give up then, and they didn’t give up this Sunday when the mighty 51-horsepower (really!) engine bombed their transmission. Fortunately, the team had thought to bring a spare transmission, and so they got right to swapping it in.

Oh, it was incredibly slow indeed, although the cornering speeds weren’t too bad. In the end, the Zero Budget Racing Chevette managed 39th place (out of about 65 entries), which we think makes it the most reliable (and maybe fastest) Chevette Diesel in history. Congratulations, Zero Budget Racing!

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And the Winner Is… Mon, 18 Jul 2011 05:00:13 +0000
Zero black flags, zero mechanical problems, and consistent quick laps around Gingerman Raceway’s track all weekend: the formula for the Skid Marks Racing Neon’s victory in Michigan on Sunday.

Team Skid Marks’ lead was never very comfortable, once the team took the lead position mid-Saturday, but the Neon managed to keep a few laps ahead of the handful of teams that were chasing it for hour after hour. It looked like the Free Candy Civic would overtake Skid Marks on Sunday, but a wheel hub failure took the Honda out of the Neon’s rear view mirror; likewise, a couple of minor mechanical hassles afflicting the Bucksnort Racing E30 (exhaust dragging and failed hood pin) cost the BMW several crucial minutes in the pits. When you’re up against now-two-time LeMons winner Skid Marks, you can’t afford even the slightest setback. Congratulations, Skid Marks Racing!

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Michigan House Votes to End Speeding Ticket Tax Thu, 16 Sep 2010 14:02:54 +0000

The Michigan state House of Representatives yesterday voted unanimously to repeal its so-called driver responsibility fee program, an unpopular tax on traffic citations. State Representative Bettie C. Scott (D-Detroit) was the primary sponsor of legislation that will end most of the fees by January 1, 2012 and, before then, cut the amount motorists owe by half.

“Obviously we must do what it takes to keep our roads safe for all travelers, but driver responsibility fees place an onerous and unnecessary financial burden on too many Michigan drivers,” Scott said in a statement. “The Driver Responsibility Act is flawed legislation that has failed the test of time. It has unfairly penalized our hard-working residents during one of the worst financial crises we’ve ever seen.”

Since 2004, Michigan has used the program to impose a tax of $300 to $2000 on certain driving offenses, plus an annual tax of $100 to $500 a year for anyone with more than seven points on his license. A package of four separate bills would remove the point tax and fees for everything except driving while intoxicated, failure to stop at an accident, eluding a police officer, reckless driving or any offense causing death or serious bodily injury.

Between 2004 and 2009, the state has assessed about $800 million in fees, only $400 million of which was actually paid. The National Motorists Association strongly opposed the fee program, pointing out that the state has some of the worst speed traps in the country, generating fees by setting speed limits that do not match the flow of traffic. The Michigan District Judges Association and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have also strongly endorsed repeal of the fees.

“People are frustrated with the ridiculous amount of money charged for minor infractions and penalties,” said state Representative Eileen Kowall (R-White Lake), sponsor of another bill in the repeal package. “These bills will help decrease the financial burden on drivers who already are being punished with large fines and court costs.”

If passed by the state Senate and signed by the governor, the Michigan repeal will become law. In 2007, the state of Virginia introduced a similar speeding ticket tax, called an “abuser fee” bill, which generated a storm of negative publicity. The legislature had no choice but to repeal the program in 2008, offering a full refund to those who paid.

A copy of House Bill 4098, as passed by the House, is available in a 50k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File House Bill 4098 (Michigan General Assembly, 9/15/2010)


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Ford: In-House Batteries Aren’t Cheap. For Taxpayers Thu, 10 Dec 2009 19:31:51 +0000 Why no, Jay, I'm not from Michigan. I was built by Magna! (courtesy:wired)
Zacks Investment Research reports that Ford will invest $500 million in Michigan for developing and building batteries for their hybrid and electric vehicles. In return, they have asked the Michigan government for a tax break between $85 to $120 million. Michigan haven’t confirmed whether they’ll give this tax break, which is handy because Ford have indicated that they will look elsewhere if the tax break isn’t given. This investment will create 1000 jobs. Each job will cost at least $85000? Shocking!

Ford have decided that battery development is a key job which needs to be developed in-house. Which is bad news for Delphi, since they currently make Ford’s batteries for them. Just what they needed as they were coming out of bankruptcy. This plant will supply batteries for the Transit Connect EV, the Focus EV and hybrid versions. Ford are choosing to manufacture Lithium Ion batteries instead of Nickel Metal hydride ones. Not only are they smaller and lighter, they can be tuned to increase power to further acceleration. It’s nice to see that Ford are creating new jobs, but as with Nissan and their Leaf production in Tennessee, the amount of tax money per job is phenomenally high. Is it worth it?

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GM: Give Us Tax Credits Or We’ll Lose The RenCen Tue, 17 Nov 2009 17:18:33 +0000 Twilight in Valhalla (courtesy: MLive)

The Freep is reporting that GM’s Renaissance Center headquarters could be at risk if so-called “retention tax credits” aren’t amended. GM is consolidating more of its workforce at its Warren Technology Center, and 1,500 of the RenCen’s 4,000 GM workers are reportedly making the move out of downtown. The remaining 2,500 workers would stay only if a Michigan Economic Growth Authority “retention” tax credit makes it worthwhile. The necessary amendments to this tax credit have been made, but MEGA still has to approve the package. A memo to the Growth Authority reveals the stakes:

2,500 is the maximum that they can also take for this portion of the credit. General Motors has submitted an application stating that the headquarters is at risk without this credit.

GM’s CEO Fritz Henderson adds:

We’ll have some people move from the Renaissance Center to the Warren Tech Center, but the Renaissance Center will still maintain a very sizable presence and this will be our headquarters

As long as the state of Michigan makes it worth GM’s while, anyway. But Michigan is hardly united in its desire to prevent the building named for unflagging optimism in Detroit’s future from becoming an ironically-named, abandoned husk. Warren Mayor Jim Fout tells MLive:

Let them keep Fritz Henderson and his secretary and his board down at the Renaissance Center and they can call that their world headquarters. But ultimately, everything else is coming to Warren. It makes no sense for them to stay at the Ren Cen. If they are going to survive, they are going to have to consolidate.

Car czarlet Steve Rattner recently laid into GM’s culture of executive arrogance, pointing out that top executives had a private elevator that whisked them from their private garages to the top of the RenCen, insulating them from their firm’s realities. Imagine what might happen if top executives were further insulated by being the only GM employees to occupy the RenCen. The mind boggles.

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Under Congressional Pressure, GM Hints At Dealer Restoration Fri, 30 Oct 2009 19:31:36 +0000 Back like deja-vu?

The recent revelation that congresspeople have been successful in coercing GM to rescind dealer closures in their districts, has the rest of our elected representatives (not to mention GM itself) sitting up and taking notice. In a conference call with Michigan’s congressional delegation, Fritz Henderson said GM was close to a deal which would restore a number of “mistakenly” closed dealerships. But GM hasn’t met with rejected dealers in weeks, and the Committee To Restore Dealer Rights is unaware of any such agreement. “[Henderson] was very vague, and the plan sounded inadequate to me,” Michigan Republican Hoekstra tells Automotive News [sub]. “He explained, for instance, that they might reopen some franchises if they found errors, but he didn’t say what those errors might be.” Henderson also rejected the dealer demand for compensation of $3,000 per vehicle sold in 2006, 2007 and 2008, further supporting suspicions that GM doesn’t have a deal at all. So what is happening?

I think GM is telling Congress: ‘We’re close to a deal, you don’t have to do anything.’ But GM isn’t doing anything. They’re just playing out the string because rejected dealers can’t hold out that long

Hoekstra may well be right. Without a compensation offer on the table, government-ordered arbitration between GM and the rejected dealers won’t go anywhere. More importantly, Henderson’s use of the term “mistakenly closed” illustrates how much pressure GM has been under from representatives to reopen dealers in their districts. If a number have already succeeded in getting GM to re-open their dealers, it’s only a matter of time before the floodgates open. Remember, GM only accepted arbitration because a bill was working through congress that would have restored all the culled dealer franchises. If arbitration is failing, GM’s only option is to hold off congressional interference for as long as possible, in hopes of as many dealers croaking as possible. And now that everyone knows some representatives have succeeded in rescuing their campaign donating home-district dealers, the rush will be on. All of which further pits the legislative against the executive branch, raising the specter of more, not less, government interference in GM and Chrysler.

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