The Truth About Cars » NASA The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 29 Jul 2014 21:42:50 +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 » NASA Super Piston Slap: I Know What I Don’t Know Wed, 25 Jun 2014 12:45:11 +0000

Were you ever taught something you already knew, something you normally teach others? That moment of surrealism came for this regional LeMons Judge while attending the Newbie School in a new racing series called the World Racing League. Baruth already gave you a tease: I set aside the idiotic ironic Indian Chief hat of LeMons for a weekend stint as a racer/pit crew/errand boy with the same team that brought you the iconic Ford Fairmont Wagon: now with more Granada.

To see the stance is to know it: Property Devaluation Racing made a worthy successor to their Fox station wagon.  So when these guys offered me a spot in the Granada and their similarly-spec’d Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, I took Friday off, forked over the fees, picked up another Fox Body loyalist from Hobby Airport (you might remember his Homer Simpson car) and hit the road for College Station.

I drove the Granada for 10 minutes during the Friday afternoon test ‘n tune session, and felt great: the Granada’s flat cornering with mild understeer was a natural transition from my street going Fox Body Cougar.  But the first day of racing?

Logging 100-ish miles in the Thunderbird was a different story: the Granada’s tame demeanor was replaced with something a (handling savvy) teammate later explained as body roll induced oversteer. The Thunderbird had razor-sharp turn-in, so sloppy steering inputs netted body roll which reduced the rear tire’s contact patch, easily inducing oversteer.  Lap 1 resulted in a huge spin entering a corner at around 50mph.  Lap 2 was no better: a similar wipeout left me bewildered, frustrated.

Both times I self-reported my impending black flags before the staff received word from the corner workers. Perhaps LeMons taught me well.

Not well enough. The Thunderbird’s owner’s words in my Nerdie helmet kit were clear: spin again and you’re out for good.  It was the reality check I needed, quickly swallowing my pride and methodically retracing the track at a slower pace. This let me understand how drastically the Thunderbird sits/lifts with my steering inputs.

Racing the Thunderbird was like a scientific experiment: repeat the process but alter a variable every time.  Enter the turn at the right speed, monitor your steering inputs and smoothly accelerate exit post-apex.  If you turned too hot, the rear tires howled: slightly dial the wheel back and they shut up.  Thank goodness for TWS’ banked oval, it was the only place I blipped the throttle, downshifted to 3rd and comfortably unwound the Thunderbird’s wicked Windsor V8 to pass “slower” cars. Sure I was slow and hyper-conscious elsewhere, but the banked oval experience continues to give me goosebumps.

Now the World Racing League is an interesting series: damn near any class of car races on the same track.  I was passed by far more professional drivers in LeMons cars, Spec Miatas and misc. track beasts to the point my left hand seemingly spent more time doing the “point by” for others than grasping the tiller. And a certain Poorvette absolutely clobbered every car out there, as you’d expect from the wholly under appreciated C4 Corvette.

I learned something besides the obligatory “damn that was so exciting I’d totally do it again” statement of any autojourno in my shoes: my racing technique toolbox just multiplied. The Thunderbird gave me a new set of tools, items previously more foreign than Portuguese.  So now I Know What I Don’t Know. Several of my friends suggested I embrace this new addiction to hone my skills, as I’m now a racer.

No dice.

Racing brought me a short term joy that I will gladly spend another $1000 in fees, gas, hotel, meals, etc. to replicate another weekend.  But the Thunderbird helped me cross a (final?) frontier: I did what made moonshiners so famous, racing/working on a boring car made from bits of more impressive vehicles. This experience crystallized my plan to write the definitive story of Ford’s underappreciated chassis.  I told others about this (including a working vacation to the Detroit Public Library) and they agreed: that’s a book they’d read.

Which isn’t exactly the point: like the benefits of grade school music programs, racing helps you in your real world.

It’s a deeply personal experience that everyone with a modicum of disposable income should try. Go race and then make yourself. Just don’t get motivated to write a book about Fox Bodies, that’s my schtick.

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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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GM Seeks Aid From NASA, Issues New Ignition-Related Recall Fri, 11 Apr 2014 09:00:47 +0000 gm-headquarters-logo-opt

Autoblog reports 2.19 million of the same vehicles under the current General Motors ignition recall are under a new ignition-related recall, as well. The new recall warns of a problem where the key can be removed without the switch moved to the “off” position. According to GM, the automaker is aware of “several hundred” complaints and at least one roll-away accident resulting in injury, and is instructing affected consumers to place their vehicles in park or, in manuals, engage the emergency brake before removing the key from the ignition until repairs are made.

Regarding the original recall, The Detroit News reports has called upon NASA’s Engineering & Safety Center to review whether or not the 2.6 million affected Chevrolets, Pontiacs and Saturns are safe to drive with just the ignition key in position. The agency, which has performed similar reviews in the past, will look over the work performed by the automaker in the latter’s effort to make the affected vehicles safe to drive, as well as review its overall approach to safety concerns.

On the financial front, Automotive News says GM will take a $1.3 billion charge in Q1 2014 for the original recall, 40 percent greater than the $750 million charge originally estimated at the end of last month. The charge — which includes repair costs and loaners for affected owners — comes on the heels of a $400 million charge tied to currency challenges in Venezuela, the total sum of which threatens to knock out most if not all of the automaker’s Q1 2014 earnings set to be announced toward of end of this month.

Meanwhile, The Detroit News reports Michael Carpenter, the CEO of former GM financial arm Ally Financial, says his company will complete its exit from government ownership by Election Day of this year:

The U.S. Treasury is quite happy today. My own view is they will definitely be out before the election and we are close to having Treasury and U.S. government ownership in the rearview mirror.

By the end of trading Thursday, Ally’s IPO netted taxpayers $17.7 billion with a profit of $500 million on the $17.2 billion bailout of the consumer finance company, while the Treasury currently holds 17 percent of its remaining shares after selling 95 million for $25 per share at the opening bell; share price fell 4.4 percent to $23.50 at the closing bell.

In lawsuit news, Automotive News reports GM settled with the families of two Saturn Ion drivers who lost their lives in 2004 when their respective cars’ airbags failed to deploy. The two fatalities were identified by the publication as the earliest of 13 linked to the out-of-spec ignition switch at the root of the current recall crisis. In addition, while one case was settled out-of-court in September of 2007, the second case drew its settlement terms after the automaker filed for bankruptcy in June of 2009, placing the plaintiffs and their lawyer with other unsecured creditors.

The Detroit News reports Cadillac and Buick are at the top of their respective lists for dealer service satisfaction as determined by the J.D. Power & Associates U.S. Customer Service Index Study. Cadillac’s dominance over the luxury brand category comes as former No. 1 Lexus — who held the top spot for five consecutive years — falls to third behind Audi, while Buick leads Volkswagen, GMC, Mini and Chevrolet in the mass-market brand category.

Finally, Autoblog reports the last of eight Corvettes swallowed by the sinkhole that formed inside the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky. back in February has been recovered. The 2001 Corvette Mallett Hammer Z06 will need extensive work performed to bring it back to its original state, but not before it joins its brethren in a new exhibit entitled “Great 8″ beginning next week. The exhibit will last until the museum’s 20th anniversary in late August, at which point GM will begin restoration work on the eight Corvettes.

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Club Racing: Now Featuring Big Air And A Free Lesson Regarding Steering Sat, 08 Dec 2012 19:23:25 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Whoa! The driver of the little Legends car had two ribs and his pelvis broken in this accident. But what can we learn from it?

Start with the good parts: Watch our driver’s heel-and-toe method. Notice how he saves all his shifts for the end of his brake zone and does them in rapid succession? That’s kind of the right way to do it. It’s much less dramatic than bopping down a gear at a time all the way through the brake zone like a Daytona Prototype heading into the Roller Coaster at VIR, but it’s the safe way for both the driver and the engine.

Now for the bad: Our driver is shuffle-steering, so when the BAD THING happens he doesn’t get to make a quick, measured correction. His hands are in the wrong place so he is forced to move them three times while hoping the steering wheel is heading to the right place. Luckily it all works out for him.

One of the neatest things about sedan racing at all levels, including LeMons, is that it regularly puts you in situations that street drivers will only experience a few times in their lives. If somebody ever blows a tire and spins out in front of our racer friend when he’s driving to work, he’s already had some real-life practice for the event. Wouldn’t you like to be able to say the same? Go race!

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Mustangs: Drift v. Race Fri, 31 Aug 2012 15:18:18 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

TTAC has some great Mustang coverage coming your way in about a week, including multiple tests of two different Shelby GT500 models ranging from a 168-mph blast down the back straight of Virginia International Raceway to a pedestrian-frightening growl through the streets of downtown Toronto. We’re busy writing apology notes to Ford for the state of the tires on the VIR car — are those cords? — so in the meantime we’ll distract you with this question: What’s faster around a racetrack: a “drift car” or a “race car”? In this video, NASA regional director Chris Cobetto and awesome drift dude Vaughn Gittin, Jr. try to create some suspense out of a foregone conclusion. There’s a more exciting video — for road racers, anyway — after the jump.

Most racers will spend that entire video yelling “COME ON, JUST PUT A FENDER ON THE GUY ALREADY, YOU’VE DONE IT TO EVERYBODY ELSE IN NASA!” Just kidding, Mr. Cobetto. If nothing else, the video shows how difficult it is to make road racing look exciting to an audience which can’t feel just how frightening it can be to ride in a fully-prepped vehicle on the limit of grip. One mistake and you’re in big trouble. Oh, do we have video of something like that? Yes we do:

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Senator Chuck Grassley Wants NHTSA To Re-Open Toyota Sudden Acceleration Case Fri, 13 Jul 2012 18:56:38 +0000

Here we go again…Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is asking NHTSA to re-open the investigation into the Toyota unintended acceleration case.

Grassley claims he was approached by unnamed whistle blowers who were unsatisfied with the scope of the investigation. According to CNN

” the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked the NHTSA in a letter to look into the phenomenon of “tin whiskers” — or crystalline structures of tin — that theoretically could lead to the unintended acceleration.

The whistle-blowers also provided Grassley with documentation about the investigations by NHTSA and NASA into the Toyota vehicles, including one NASA report that stated: “Because proof that the (electronic throttle-control systems) caused the reported (unintended accelerations) was not found does not mean it could not occur.”

Tin whiskers are able to cause shorts in electrical systems, and have been known to disrupt devices like pacemakers. Pure tin solder is often a culprit for it; lead was previously added to solder to help eliminate the issue, but with jurisdictions banning the use of lead, the problem has re-occurred in certain products.

Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons told CNN that the tin whiskers problem was a non-issue, stating that

“…no one has ever found a single real-world example of tin whiskers causing an unintended acceleration event, nor have they put forth any evidence of unintended acceleration occurring in a Toyota vehicle because of tin whiskers forming inside an accelerator pedal position sensor.”

Clearly, being exonerated by NASA isn’t enough, if a scandal can be exploited in an election year.

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Nissan, NASA Create Spec Z Series Mon, 06 Feb 2012 21:22:34 +0000

We don’t always cover motorsports here at TTAC, but when we do, we make sure it’s grassroots. Following the Spec Miata, Spec E30 and Spec Focus race series, NASA and Nissan have partnered to create a Spec Z series for the 2003 to 2008 350Z coupes that were so popular earlier in the decade.

Modifications to the cars are limited to a Nismo catback, Nismo LSD, Nismo Flywheel and a Spec suspension kit featuring new shocks, springs, coilover sleeves, anti-roll bars and BF Goodrich R1 tires. Horsepower will be limited to 258 wheel horsepower for the 03-04 cars, 265 for the 05-06 cars and 275 for the 08 cars. Contingency cash will be available for both the regional and national levels.

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NASA Opens Its Tech Hoard To The Car Industry Mon, 17 Oct 2011 16:56:25 +0000

Crains Cleveland reports that NASA will be offering some 38 technologies developed for its space program to the auto industry at a trade show next week at the Glenn Research Center. With 100 OEMs and suppliers attending, the event will bring materials and technologies chosen for their usefulness in automotive applications to an industry that is anxious to develop solutions for upcoming fuel economy standards. And hopefully bring some licensing fees to an agency that is anxious to find private sources of income. In the words of NASA’s Paul Bartolotta

NASA is open for business. We’re opening our safe, so to speak

So, what’s on offer?

Per Crains,

The technologies are far ranging and include things like a special copper alloy that NASA developed for rocket nozzles. Those nozzles have to withstand tremendous temperatures and other harsh environmental conditions.

As it turns out, they also make great welding electrodes that can be used on robotic welders — electrodes that last far longer than those available using other metals, NASA says.

Also set to be unveiled is the material NASA developed to keep jet engine blades from penetrating the bodies of jet engines and plane fuselages.

The material, a type of foam sandwiched between special layers of something similar to carbon fiber, is super tough, but it’s also light. It might even serve as a new, lighter skin for NASA’s next rocket, though it could be useful in making lighter and stronger car bodies, Dr. Bartolotta said.

Other technologies include sensors and controls that could help hybrid or electric cars become more efficient; solid oxide fuel cells to power vehicles; new materials that can be used to contain pressurized natural gas; and green polymers that put out only water and not noxious gases when they are used.

And though NASA is attacking the same challenge as the auto industry, namely how to build vehicles that are cheap and efficient yet up to the rigorous demands of their duties, it seems interest may not be as high as you might think. Though over 100 firms will come by to see NASA’s technology, nearly 500 invitees have decided to sit the exhibition out. Given how competitive the auto industry is, it seems unlikely that these firms are sleeping on a truly game-changing technology… but then, materials technologies are all about applications. As pointed out in the example of the copper alloy, a material designed for one purpose can end up having a much bigger impact in a completely different application. And who knows where these new technologies could end up in your next car…

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Shameless ABC News Requests And Receives Award For Brian Ross’s Fakery Tue, 21 Jun 2011 14:51:15 +0000

While Toyota is still waiting for an apology for the fakery on network TV, a visibly unrepentant ABC News proudly declares:

“ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross and the ABC News Investigative Team have been awarded the 2011 National Edward R. Murrow Award for “Video Continuing Coverage” for their exclusive investigation that revealed how Toyota had for years ignored complaints from hundreds of its owners about cars suddenly accelerating out of control.”

Investor’s Business Daily says the Radio Television Digital News Association, which handed out the award, “must be made up of the only people on Earth who didn’t know that the story fell apart.” It gets even better. Brazen ABC submitted Ross’s work for the contest.

Says Investor’s Business Daily:

“One would think that any reputable media association would refuse to hand out an award for coverage of a story that was in fact devoid of any substance. But one would be wrong.”

“Ross by himself did not drive down Toyota’s market value and sales. But he’s the correspondent who staged the famous “death ride” in a Toyota set up to accelerate without driver input. And it was Ross’ report that featured a doctored shot of a tachometer suddenly racing to 6,000 rpm.”

Toyota had been long exonerated from any computer malfunction by NASA and NHTSA. The malfunctions in the mainstream media continue unabated.

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Toyota Still Mad At David Gilbert, Wants Apology Fri, 17 Jun 2011 16:09:17 +0000

At today’s annual stockholders meeting in Toyota City, Toyota wrapped up most of the SUA and recall troubles that had plagued the company last year. Says The Nikkei [sub]: “When asked about the fallout from the recall of millions of vehicles over the past couple of years amid quality concerns, executive vice president Shinichi Sasaki thanked the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for clearing Toyota of some of the most serious allegations about defects in its vehicles.“

However, there is one man Toyota still holds a grudge against:

Sasaki talked about unfounded claims about problems with Toyota’s electronic throttle control. By name, he mentioned Southern Illinois University engineering professor David Gilbert. Gilbert starred in the now infamous  ABC/Brian Ross freak-show, which quickly was debunked as fakery.

Gilbert also provided testimony in congressional hearings and said that certain Toyota vehicles could be susceptible to unintended acceleration due to glitches in the cars’ electronics.  Research by NASA could not find any glitches, and Toyota was exonerated.

David Gilbert could set the record straight with a very short sentence: “I’m sorry.”

“Mr. Gilbert has yet to apologize to us, which is extremely regrettable,” Sasaki told the assembled shareholders.


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Ghost Busters Go Bust: Toyotas Declared Ghost-Free Tue, 08 Feb 2011 18:56:21 +0000

After tarring and feathering Toyota for alleged sudden unintended acceleration, after inventing a mass murder of 89 that creates a massive 261,000 hits on Google, after dragging executives in front of tribunals of the Washington Inquisition, after shaking down Toyota for unprecedented $48.8 million in fines, after NASA engineers subjected Toyota cars to torture worse than waterboarding, the NHTSA today announced that they found …

… exactly nothing.

In a press conference today at 2pm in Washington, the DOT presented the results of a 10-month review. It was commissioned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and conducted by NASA engineers. The engineers who usually busy themselves with Mars and Venus went on the hunt for the ghost in Toyota’s machine.

“A U.S. government investigation showed no link between electronic throttles and unintended acceleration in Toyota Motor Corp vehicles,” writes Reuters, “a victory for the world’s top automaker battered by recalls over runaway vehicles.” The NASA’s scientists found no ghosts, no tin whiskers, no shorts, not a shred of evidence.

Even “hold Toyota’s feet to the fire” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood  had to concede: “We enlisted the best and brightest engineers to study Toyota’s electronics systems and the verdict is in. There is no electronic-based cause for unintended acceleration in Toyotas,”

However, the punishment of Toyota before found guilty left lasting marks. Hounded by a government that has ownership interest in two car companies that are in direct competition with Toyota, the Japanese carmaker lost a full two percent of market share in the U.S. in 2010. While the market grew 11 percent in the U.S. in 2010, Toyota was treading water. This was the first time in 12 years that Toyota lost ground in the U.S. Interestingly, SUA remained a U.S. phenomenon, as freshly evidenced by Toyota’s strong sales elsewhere.

As Reuters notes: “The recalls, government scrutiny, which included testimony by Chief Executive Akio Toyoda at congressional hearings a year ago, and more than $30 million in fines damaged Toyota’s reputation for quality and reliability.”

Toyota’s troubles in the U.S. are far from over. Toyota has to contend with hundreds of lawsuits, along with an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The wheels of justice grind slowly, but they can grind you down.

Audi had received a similar, but by comparison much milder treatment in the 80s that nonetheless nearly killed the brand in the U.S. Audi was subsequently exonerated by the NHTSA, which concluded that driver error was the cause. At the time, I had witnessed the drama from the inside. Today’s revelation comes as no surprise to me.

Nonetheless, SUA remains a phenomenon that affects all brands. After Toyota had been singled out and painted as SUA incarnate, there is a belated study by the august body of the National Academy of Sciences which looks into unintended acceleration in cars and trucks across the auto industry. Results are expected sometime this fall. Any guesses what they may be?

Despite coming up empty, LaHood said the NHTSA is thinking about new regulations:  Brake override systems on all vehicles, standardizing keyless ignition systems, event data recorders in all new vehicles.

The NHTSA also considers conducting more research on electronic control systems and will look into the placement and design of accelerator and brake pedals. Shades of Audi …

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Government Motors Synergies Paying Off? Fri, 05 Feb 2010 17:56:43 +0000

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