The Truth About Cars » NHTSA The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 16 Apr 2014 05:18:32 +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 » NHTSA U.S. DoT To Mandate Vehicle to Vehicle Telematics for Crash Avoidance, Sparking Privacy Concerns Tue, 04 Feb 2014 10:30:22 +0000 connectedcars

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told Automotive News that U.S. regulators will soon begin working on telematics regulations that will require new cars and light trucks sold in the United States to be equipped with systems for vehicle to vehicle communications. The impetus is safety, as the telematic systems can be integrated with semi-autonomous crash avoidance systems.

Foxx didn’t set a date when the mandate would become effective, but he made it clear that he supports the technology, calling it a “moon shot” and saying that it could prevent 70 to 80 percent of crashes involving drivers that are not impaired.

“Keeping drivers safe is the most important advantage of V2V, but it’s just one of many,” Foxx said. “V2V can also help reduce congestion and save fuel. The potential of this technology is absolutely enormous.”

Car companies like GM, Toyota and VW, have been working together, along with government regulators and engineers for more than a decade on standards for what some have called “the internet of cars” or “connected cars”.

That connection would take place over a dedicated wireless wireless frequency called Dedicated Short-Range Communications, or DSRC, which would be separate from the current 3G and 4G cellular networks that currently allow Internet-based services in your car.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a lobbying group, was reserved in its reaction. A spokesperson for the Alliance told AN that it recognizes the benefits of DSRC technology, but that there are issues that need to be resolved and that the organization’s members prefer a voluntary standard to a mandate.

“DSRC radios may play a larger role in future road safety, but many pieces of a large puzzle still need to fit together,” the AAM said in a statement. “We need to address security and privacy, along with consumer acceptance, affordability, achieving the critical mass to enable the ‘network effect’ and establishment of the necessary legal and regulatory framework.”

Car companies are starting to roll out connected cars in Europe, with the first vehicles hitting the road sometime next year. London-based consultancy ABI Research predicted last year that global acceptance of the technology in new vehicles will grow from 10 percent in 2018 to 70 percent by 2027.

DSRC works much like the Wi-fi used by personal computers and other electronic devices, and can handle data from the cameras and sensors that have proliferated in today’s cars. Vehicles equipped with DRSC chips would receive and process signals from nearby DRSC-enabled cars to learn their location, direction and speed. If a driver does not react to an impending collision, the car could then sound a warning or apply the brakes automatically to prevent an accident.

Regulators say that the system could also process signals from smartphones and other devices carried by pedestrians, cyclists and drivers of older cars. Aftermarket transmitters for retrofitting are also anticipated, though there is no word yet on making them mandatory on all vehicles, not just a new factory standard on new cars.

A$25 million study conducted on the streets of Ann Arbor, Michigan proved that telematics products from different vehicle manufacturers and suppliers will communicate with one another. The government agency said that a published report will be released for public comment in the next few weeks.

The move to embrace DSRC technology is part of a shift in strategy by regulators from passive safety systems to more active technologies. As cars and light trucks have gotten safer, finding areas to improve accident survival rates has become harder.

“While the auto industry has made great strides to reduce fatalities and injuries after a crash,” said Scott Belcher, president of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, “the next giant leap is to enable real-time communication between vehicles and with the world around them so crashes can be avoided in the first place.”

Currently automakers use a differing variety of warning sounds and symbols in their accident avoidance systems. Mercedes-Benz has flashing lights, General Motors has patented a vibrating seat that warns drivers, and Ford uses a haptic steering wheel. The government could implement standardizing regulations on those warnings.

Privacy advocates have concerns because regulators and automakers are also thinking of other ways that DSRC could be used for purposes besides safety. Richard Bishop, who led the DOT’s vehicle automation program in the 1990s, says that the new wireless technology could be used could be used to collect tolls, or to tax drivers based on the number of miles they travel. As the use of hybrids and EVs grows, governments are looking to alternatives to taxes on gasoline and diesel.

In addition to privacy as related to civil liberties and the government possibly tracking motorists’ movements, DSRC creates a new opportunities for hackers and identity thieves.

U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., asked, in a May 2013 hearing whether wireless communications could potentially allow “some 14-year-old in Indonesia” to “shut your car down.”

Considering that the European Union is indeed considering mandating equipment that would let police and other authorities to disable your car by remote control, the senator’s concerns may not be hyperbolic, though civil libertarians might be more concerned about potential abuse by government agents than by hackers in Indonesia.

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NAIAS 2014: TTAC And Jalopnik Explore The Closed Door World Of Regulatory Meetings Fri, 17 Jan 2014 17:10:44 +0000 NHTSA-logo-large

While the rest of the 5,200+ media-pass holders bounced from one laser light show to another, I and Raphael Orlove ( of Jalopnik) ventured north to cover a very different automotive event. There would be no makeup counter girls, no automaker swag and the coffee came from a vending machines not Italian espresso machine. We were headed to an automotive regulatory meeting that was scheduled to take place at the same time as the Acura reveal.

The official title of the meeting was, “The Public Meeting of the U.S. –Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) Motor Vehicles Safety Standards Working Group.” The public announcement was posted on January 6, 2014 via  In that announcement it stated that to attend the meeting you were required to register 10 days prior to the event. The event took place on January 14 meaning you had to register for the event by January 4, four days before the notice was posted. Time travel?

Thankfully I was able to register and this ‘rule’ didn’t prohibit me or Orlove from attending. We were in.

An American flag waived in front of a large concrete building. The honeycomb-shaped windows looked as if they’d been cut and pasted from any one of the federal buildings in D.C. We made our way through the TSA-like security. Belt, shoes, bags – you know the drill. Security was tight here as the building was home to regional offices for the DEA, DHS, CBP and FBI.

We made our way to the 11th floor, past the Witness Protection Program Office and to a GSA conference room. We were just in time for introductions. We quietly sat in the back of the conference room and when the time came stood up and introduced ourselves.

“I’m Raphael Orlove with Jalopnik.”

“Juan Barnett with Truth About Cars.”

Having trouble hearing the lengthy titles of the attendees (Kash Ram, Director General, Road Safety and Motor Vehicle Regulation Directorate, Transportation Canada), we moved up closer, taking a seat in the front row.

Kash and his U.S. counterpart, Christopher Bonanti, Associate Administrator for Rulemaking, NHTSA, took turns updating the room, a room filled with lobbyists and automaker representatives, on the status of new and ongoing activities from their respective agencies.

The meeting itself was interesting and informative if you’re into the policy side of automotive.

For example, I wasn’t aware that in Canada the Official Languages Act makes alignment of US and Canadian safety standards for “controls and displays” very difficult because of the use of pictograms.

Another topic that came up was the use of immobilizers to get a waiver from the theft prevention standards that requires automakers to VIN-stamp various parts of a vehicle such as large panels, engine blocks, etc. NHTSA is allowed to grant one model line exemption per year for an automaker under 49 CFR Part 543. While the discussion revolved around lining up the performance standards of immobilizers (US has no performance criteria and Canada does), Mr. Bonanti did make it a point to emphasize that if stakeholders wanted to expand that exemption to include more than one model line per year, that stakeholders in the room needed to pursue a legislative change. In other words, if you want this changed, go lobby Congress.

Tires came up during the opening discussion, particularly standards associated with low rolling resistance (LRR) tires and how fuel economy information could be provided to consumers to make them aware of the benefit associated with LRR tires. This could get very tricky, especially from an OEM packing perspective. If automakers are required to breakout LRR MPG numbers on a per vehicle basis, what’s to say it won’t happen with other options?

“I want a rear wing, but the -0.29 MPG is really holding me back.”

On the topic of tires we also learned that the track at NHTSA’s UTQG Test Facility in San Angelo, Texas was destroyed by flooding. Water got under the track and lifted the asphalt making the track unusable.

The speakers got further into bus safety and larger vehicle carrier at which point I started to tune out as I don’t really follow commercial vehicles and Orlove was drafting a very fascinating image of a bus and car colliding, flames and all.

From here things got strange.

During the midday break, Orlove and I hit up the vending machine in search of caffeine. The NHTSA official, Mr. Bonanti, stood next to us coaxing the finest coffee from a 1983 COFFEE EXPRESS machine. He asked, “What organization are you guys from?” We responded, Jalopnik and TruthAboutCars. He wasn’t familiar with the groups. Then Orlove said, “Were with the media.”


“Uh, I didn’t know media was here,” said Mr. Bonanti. He asked the nearest person to him, “Did you know media was in the room?” You would have thought we had stumbled into the witness protection office by accident and were tweeting people’s new identities to the public. (I was asked if I was tweeting the meeting. And yes, of course I was tweeting the meeting.)

What are they hiding?

This was a public meeting, but there wasn’t a single person from the public. A part of me thinks that’s how they, the government and ‘stakeholders’, prefer these types of meetings to be held. The announcement was posted days before the event, to include an RVSP date that had passed. It was held in a remote federal building on the same time and day that the automotive media had to cover new vehicle reveals.

Behind closed doors is exactly the opposite of how people like Elon Musk want to handle regulators and for that, people like Karl Brauer of Kelly Blue Book call him a “rookie in the car business.” But are Elon, and Sergio Marchionne, who had a public disagreement with NHTSA on Jeep fires, truly ‘rookies in the car business’? Or are they pioneering something much bigger?

We live in a time when the public can be the media (like me), where automakers speak directly to the public with their data, unafraid of the government, presenting their side of the story for the public to judge.

The government isn’t always right. As people trust government less and less, could we see more brands emerge from the shadows of small federal meeting rooms and take their issues directly to the public bypassing the regulators all together?

You say rookie, I say calculated transparency, a transparency we could all benefit from.

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NHTSA Submits Rear Visibility Rule to White House, May Mandate Backup Cameras Fri, 03 Jan 2014 15:34:29 +0000 backup-camera

After several delays, on Dec. 25th, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration submitted a proposed revised regulation to the White House that could mandate automakers to equip cars and light trucks with backup cameras. According to Automotive News, the regulation will be part of new rear visibility standards for passenger vehicles sold in the U.S and the rationale for the backup cameras is to prevent children from being injured or killed by drivers that don’t see them behind their cars when traveling in reverse. NHTSA estimates that backup cameras would save about 100 lives a year.

No details on the planned standards have been released yet. Their submission to the White House was spotted on a White House database that tracks the rulemaking process. They could mandate cameras or may allow automakers to comply using redesigned mirrors or electronic sensors. The notice confirms what former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said last year, that the administration intends to release the final rule by January 2015.

The release of a final rule, part of implementing the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act, enacted in 2008, has been delayed four times since the original deadline at the end of 2011. Congressional backers of that legislation blame the delays on the White House, saying that it rejected NHTSA’s original 2010 proposal that would have required all new light vehicles to be sold with backup cameras by 2014. Since then, backup cameras have become more common as navigation screens capable of displaying a camera feed have proliferated. Some automakers have made backup cameras standard equipment on some models and in the case of Honda, across their entire U.S. lineup.

Still, many cars and light trucks are not available with the safety feature and auto safety advocates have pressed for the regulations. In September, Consumers Union, the advocacy wing of Consumer Reports magazine, filed a lawsuit to compel the Obama Administration to make backup cameras part mandatory. Scott Michelman, an attorney at the group Public Citizen, which supported the lawsuit, said at the time, “When Congress ordered this rule issued in three years, they meant three years, not seven.”

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Toyota Set to be #1 in Recalls for Fourth Time in Five Years Mon, 30 Dec 2013 13:00:36 +0000


Barring a last minute campaign from another manufacturer, Toyota will be number one in recalls on the American market for 2013. This will be the second year in a row that Toyota has topped the recall rankings. Since the 2009 sudden unintended acceleration controversy, Toyota has led the nation in recalls every year except 2011.

A recent overview published in the International Business Times highlights the recall problems of major OEMs globally, with a focus on the United States. Official NHTSA statistics for 2013 won’t be available until next month, but a rough count of major recalls places Toyota in the lead. In 2012, Toyota recalled 5.3 million cars for a variety of maladies. Honda was number two, with 3.3 million cars recalled. Lowlights in the recall race include Toyota’s 870,000 units with randomly deploying airbags due to spiders, Chrysler’s 280,000 units with potentially faulty rear axles and 2.7 million Jeeps for potential  fire hazard, BMW’s 569,000 units that could randomly shed battery cables leading to stalling, and Honda’s 777,000 units with missing rivets leading to airbag malfunctions.

None of Toyota’s major recall campaigns in the United States in 2013 were related to unintended acceleration. Instead, airbags and seatbelts top the list of problematic components. Besides the aforementioned airbag issues in Camrys and Avalons, Toyota recalled over 750,000 Corollas and Matrixes for problems with electronic circuitry that could lead to random deployment of airbags or seatbelt pretensioners. 209,000 FJ Cruisers and 342,000 Tacomas were also recalled for seat-belt issues, as were 170,000 other units for faulty airbag inflators. In addition, 615,000 Sienna minivans were recalled for transmissions that can slip out of park without prior application of the brakes. Although no cars in the U.S. were recalled for SUA-related issues in 2013, Toyota just announced a recall of 400,000 units in Saudi Arabia to install brake override systems. That recall is meant to address concerns about possible unintended acceleration.

Toyota’s problems with airbags can be traced at least partially to the widespread reliance of multiple manufacturers on large suppliers. As the IBT article explains, Toyota’s recall for faulty air bag inflators is part of a widespread problem that has also affected Honda, Nissan, and Mazda. All of these companies used air bags manufactured by the Takata Corporation at its Mexican facility from 2000-2002. All of these companies have announced recalls to address the same problem. This illustrates the way in which component defects at the supplier level can spread widely throughout the industry. If headaches like this continue for OEM’s, one has to wonder if they might insource more production of critical safety systems. At the very least, it is likely that suppliers of these components will face tighter scrutiny in an effort to avoid costly recalls.

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U.S. Highway Fatalities Rose In 2012 On Increased Motorcycle, Pedestrian Deaths Mon, 18 Nov 2013 12:00:49 +0000 traffic-fatalities

According to a report released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), highway deaths in the United States increased in 2012 by more than 1,000 fatalities compared to 2011. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s getting less safe to drive since the majority of the 33,561 people killed in traffic accidents in the U.S. in 2012 were motorcyclists and pedestrians. Pedestrian fatalities rose for the third year in a row and a majority of those deaths involved jaywalking at night. Many pedestrian deaths also involved alcohol. Even with the increase in 2012, highway fatalities over the past five years continue to be at a historic low.

“Highway deaths claim more than 30,000 lives each year, and while we’ve made substantial progress over the past 50 years, it’s clear that we have much more work to do,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Motorcyclist fatalities also increased for the third straight year. States without mandatory helmet laws had ten times as many rider fatalities as those states that require motorcyclists to wear protective headgear. Bicycling fatalities were at the highest they’ve been in six years.

Alcohol related fatalities rose to 10,322 in 2012, compared to 9,865 in the previous year. The majority of those fatalities involved drivers with a blood alcohol concentration nearly double the legal limit.

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A Second Tesla Model S Burns Tue, 29 Oct 2013 11:30:21 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

A second Tesla Model S has burned following an accident, this time near Merida, Mexico. Tesla Motors issued a statement saying the customer was unhurt after crash in which the Model S hit a concrete barrier. The accident occurred on October 19 according to local news reports that say that the luxury electric car was speeding and “hit a raised pedestrian crossing and briefly took flight before crashing into a wall and tree.” Photos and video posted of the crash’s aftermath show the front end damaged and flames burning the car.

“We were able to contact the driver quickly and are pleased that he is safe,” Liz Jarvis-Shean, a Tesla spokesperson, said Monday in an e-mailed statement. “This was a significant accident where the car was traveling at such a high speed that it smashed through a concrete wall and then hit a large tree, yet the driver walked away from the car with no permanent injury.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said last week that it found no evidence that the October 1 fire that engulfed the front end of a Model S in Washington state after the car hit metal debris that punctured the battery pack was not due to any defects or violations of U.S. safety standards.

According to Tesla, both customers plan to purchase new Model S cars to replace their burned Teslas. “He is appreciative of the safety and performance of the car and has asked if we can expedite delivery of his next Model S,” Jarvis-Shean said about the owner of the car that burned in Mexico.


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NHTSA Opens Preliminary Investigation Into Jeep Grand Cherokee Headliner Fires Fri, 23 Aug 2013 20:50:50 +0000 i2274785

Issues about fire safety continue to affect the Jeep brand as the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced today that it is opening an investigation into 146,000 2012 model year Grand Cherokees, after receiving reports from three consumers who say that the headliners of their cars caught fire near the passenger side sun visor.

“The customers reported a burning odor and visible smoke coming from the headliner while the vehicle was being driven. This was followed by flames from the headliner itself. Customers lowered the windows in an effort to clear the smoke but this increased the fire’s intensity. All three vehicles had to be extinguished with a fire extinguisher or by the fire department as they continued to burn after the vehicle was turned off . The fire also caused the sunroof to shatter in one incident, and in another, the fire spread to the passenger seat when the burning sun visor fell onto the seat. In each case, the incident resulted in the vehicle being inoperable requiring it to be towed to the dealership.”

A Chrysler spokesman said that the company is conducting its own investigation and that it is cooperating with NHTSA:

“Customer safety is paramount at Chrysler Group. Accordingly, our engineers are investigating this concern while also fully supporting the Preliminary Evaluation opened by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Jeep Grand Cherokee is among the safest vehicles on the road today. It also is the most awarded SUV ever.”

The investigation into burning headliners follows a voluntary recall of over 1.5 million 1992-98 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2002-07 Jeep Libertys to address possible fires caused by leaking fuel tanks in the event of a collision, even though those vehicles met all applicable standards at time of manufacture. NHTSA has still not determined if it will crash test Jeep vehicles that have been recalled and retrofitted with a trailer hitch intended to protect the gas tank.

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NHTSA Pushes Back On Tesla’s ‘Safest Car Ever’ Claims for Model S Thu, 22 Aug 2013 14:30:46 +0000 BSO2QDqCUAEigGZ

The general and automotive press was buzzing in the past couple of days about Tesla’s Model S acing crash testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, following a Tesla press release claiming that the Model S is the safest car ever tested by that agency. Now, NHTSA is throwing some cold water on Tesla’s claims that the Model S earned more than five stars, the agency’s highest score. The car performed well, NHTSA says, but not off the charts as claimed by Tesla. The implication that Tesla is exaggerating the crash test results follows the company’s release of what it said were profitable financial results, though the figures did not follow generally accepted accounting procedures. NHTSA also released video of the Model S undergoing crash testing.

“The agency’s 5-Star Safety Ratings program is designed to provide consumers with information about the crash protection,” NHTSA said in a statement. “NHTSA does not rate vehicles beyond 5 stars and does not rank or order vehicles within the star ratings.”

Tesla based its bragging on how it calculated the Vehicle Safety Score data provided to manufacturers, yielding a 5.4 rating according to the company.

Clarence Ditlow, the director of the Center of Auto Safety, who had a role in developing the five-star schema, told ABC News that while the Tesla Model S did perform well in the crash tests the company’s spin on the data was misleading. “No matter what, you can’t say it’s the safest car ever tested, just that it had the best overall test score of any vehicle tested by NHTSA.”

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Tesla S Sets NHTSA Crash Testing Score Record, Goes to Eleven (Well, 5.4 Stars to be Exact), Breaks Roof Testing Machine Wed, 21 Aug 2013 19:35:19 +0000 model-s-five-star-safety-rating

Chart courtesy of Tesla Motors

While General Motors is thumping its chest because the new fullsize pickups from Chevrolet and GMC are the first to earn an overall 5 star crash test rating since the standards were upgraded two years ago, Tesla is trumpeting the NHTSA crash testing results for their Model S, saying that the luxury EV achieved the best safety rating ever of any car tested by the highway safety agency. Not only did the Model S earn an overall five-star rating, but the Model S earned 5 stars in every testing category. While 5 is the maximum rating that NHTSA publishes, manufacturers are provided with the overall Vehicle Safety Score, whose scale goes higher, and Teslas says that the Model S’ VSS was 5.4 stars, the highest ever achieved.

The EV company says that score is the best of any recorded by every car sold in the United States, a new record for the lowest likelihood of injury to occupants. It also is better than all SUV and minivans as well. The company attributes the high scores in part to a more effective front crush zone made possible by the fact that there is no engine up front in the Tesla, which is driven by a fairly compact electric motor mounted near the rear axle. Another feature that the company claims makes the Tesla safer is a double bumper installed on cars ordered with an optional third row seat for children. Side impact performance, significantly better than the five star rated Volvo S60, is attributed to multiple aluminum extrusions nested in the Model S’ side rails.

The Model S performed particularly well in the rollover test because the location of the vehicle’s traction battery under the passenger compartment results in a very low center of gravity. During normal testing the Model S could not be made to roll over so the test had to be modified. The results indicate that the Model S will protect its passengers from rollover risk about 50% better than other top rated vehicles.

Should the Model S be made to roll over, the roof should protect the occupants well. During roof crush testing, the Model S broke the testing machine after withstanding more than 4 times the force of gravity. Tesla attributes that high performance to B pillar reinforcements attached with aerospace graded fasteners.

In announcing the results, Tesla said that while their initial testing showed that the Model S would achieve the 5 star rating when tested in standard locations, they verified that even if the car was tested at its weakest points, it would still earn the maximum rating. No doubt because fire safety has been an issue that was raised with the Chevy Volt and the Fisker Karma, Tesla’s press release on the Model S crash results also stressed that the car’s lithium-ion battery experienced no fires before, during or after NHTSA testing. The “after” was a reference to a fire that broke out in a Chevy Volt three weeks after it was crash tested by NHTSA in a fully charged condition.

Tesla also said that they are unaware of any fatalities that have happened in real world collisions involving either the Model S or the Tesla Roadster.

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2014 GM Pickups First to Earn NHTSA Five-Star Rating Wed, 21 Aug 2013 18:16:59 +0000 silverado_r

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stiffened its testing procedures in 2011. General Motors has announced that for the first time since those stricter standards have been in place its 2014 Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups have earned overall vehicle scores of five stars, the first fullsize pickup trucks to earn that rating. The 2014 Ford F-150 and 2014 Ram 1500 from Chrysler have four-star overall ratings. NHTSA hasn’t yet released the rating of Toyota’s new 2014 Tundra, scheduled to go on sale in late August, but the 2013 Tundra received four stars from NHTSA as did the outgoing 2013 GM trucks.

Gay Kent, GM general director of Vehicle Safety and Crashworthiness, said in a statement, “Safety is as important to truck buyers as it is to car buyers. Silverado and Sierra set a benchmark for pickup truck safety by offering a full array of advanced features designed to protect occupants before, during and after a collision.”

Before NHTSA instituted more rigorous testing, almost 90% of models received four or five star ratings for side impacts and 95% were ranked with 5 stars after frontal collision testing. Those figures dropped after the new standards were implemented.

silverado int_r

In addition to new passive safety features like lap belt pretensioners, six standard air bags (including new dual stage frontal air bags), fully boxed frames and the use of high strength steel in critical areas, GM’s new pickups, the source of much of the company’s profits in its home market in the U.S. offer other optional safety upgrades like backup cameras, forward-collision alert, lane-departure warning, and a haptic safety-alert driver’s seat.

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NHTSA Administrator Says Compliance With Standards At Time of Production Not Enough Mon, 15 Jul 2013 17:59:22 +0000 strickland-2012

In an interview with Automotive News (registration required), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration director David Strickland said that if automakers want to keep their cars and trucks from getting recalled, those cars must not just meet standards in effect at the time vehicles are produced, but that the car companies must also make sure they stay as safe, statistically, as competitors’ products that use different designs.


Though he didn’t explicitly say so, his remarks could be read as saying that the agency will aggressively pursue recalls even though the involved vehicles met all standards in effect when they were built. Companies apparently will not be able to avoid recalls by saying that their cars and trucks met all applicable standards when sold new. Strickland’s comments were made against the backdrop of the voluntary inspection and retrofitting of trailer hitches on some Jeep models to reduce the risk of punctures to the rear mounted gas tanks in the event of rear collisions

“It really is based on the notion of unreasonable risk. And that is an evolving notion,” Strickland told the AN. He said that NHTSA is obligated to reassess risks “if state of the art moves all the peers in one direction, and it appears that there is another part of the fleet that has not made those same moves or improvements.” If car makers want to avoid recalls, they’ll have to remain “within the zone of reasonable risk”.

When Chrysler was first ordered to recall 2.7 million Jeep Grand Cherokee and Liberty SUVs, the company claimed that the agency was changing the rules. The dispute raised the issue as to what exactly is a “standard” if that standard is fluid and subject to retroactive change. ”NHTSA seems to be holding Chrysler Group to a new standard for fuel tank integrity that does not exist now and did not exist when the Jeep vehicles were manufactured,” the company at first said after the recall was announced, though as mentioned the company and NHTSA came to an agreement about Chrysler doing the inspections and retrofits voluntarily.

Though Strickland said that the use of fluid standards isn’t the result of any new interpretation of the laws the agency enforces, he also said that using the “reasonable risk” standard was a tactical solution to “upgrading” standards when the slow pace of  changing the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards legislatively doesn’t move fast enough in the agency’s opinion.

“It’s very hard to change or upgrade a federal motor vehicle safety standard,” he said. “Sometimes it can be decades. Sometimes it can be 20 or 30 years.” Using a standard that changes retroactively based on the concept of reasonable risk, the NHTSA director added, allows the agency to “to backstop the inability to reach back and upgrade standards – because of cost and time and all sorts of other factors.”

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Jeeps Get Hitched To Prevent Fiery Union Wed, 19 Jun 2013 15:01:23 +0000 2005-2007_Jeep_Liberty_--_08-16-2010

As we reported yesterday, Chrysler will be recalling the 2.7 million  1.56 million Jeeps being targeted by NHTSA over rear-end crashes that can lead to a fiery death. The solution; a trailer hitch out of the Mopar catalog.

Both Chrysler and NHTSA get to walk away from this one without losing too much face; NHTSA appears to have compelled Chrysler to take action on the matter, while Chrysler’s “voluntary” action allows it to maintain that there’s nothing wrong with the vehicles, while also having the PR bonus of making them look responsible and caring in the face of a safety issue.

It’s likely that most of the Jeeps will pass the “visual inspection” and dealers won’t need to install too many of the Mopar factory trailer hitches. And every person that comes in is a potential sales lead. After all, some of these Jeeps are 20 years old by now. Certainly time for a new Jeep, isn’t it?



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Chrysler Stands Down, Recalls Jeeps Tue, 18 Jun 2013 18:47:30 +0000 1993-1995_Jeep_Grand_Cherokee_--_03-30-2012

Facing a looming deadline to comply with a NHTSA request to recall 2.7 million 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty SUVs – some of which are close to 20 years old at this point – Chrysler had decided to comply with NHTSA’s request.

While Chrysler maintains that their vehicles are safety, the auto maker has decided to inspect and, if necessary, repair the affected vehicles, as per their official statement

As a result of the agreement, Chrysler Group will conduct a voluntary campaign with respect to the vehicles in question that, in addition to a visual inspection of the vehicle will, if necessary, provide an upgrade to the rear structure of the vehicle to better manage crash forces in low-speed impacts.

The issue revolves around rear-mounted gas tanks in the two models and the question of whether or not rear-end crashes can cause vehicle fires. NHTSA has been investigating the matter since 2010 and reports a total of 51 deaths resulting from 37 rear-end crashes in both cars.

Chrysler not only maintained that the Jeeps in question were safe, but mounted a mini-PR war against NHTSA, providing data on rear end crash fatalities. The company may have been right, but public perception may have been such that Chrysler didn”t want to risk going through what Ford did during the Pinto fire controversy. The PR battle would have been unwinnable, given the complexity of the issue and the public’s general aversion to nuance and detail when it comes to any sort of discourse. We’ll have more as this story develops.


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The Flame Wars: Jeeps “Absolutely Safe,” Marchionne Says Fri, 07 Jun 2013 14:29:32 +0000 nhtsa2


Fiat’s Sergio Marchionne jumped, so to speak, into the flames erupting around the rebuffed Jeep recall.  Says Reuters:

“Marchionne Friday reiterated Chrysler’s resistance to a recall of 2.7 million older-model Jeep vehicles, adding that the automaker is preparing to supply the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with information it had requested.”

Marchionne told Reuters:

“We will supply them with a complete set of data. Based on all available data, these cars are absolutely safe and totally in line with what the industry was producing at the time. There is no design defect.”

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The NHTSA And Chrysler. Or: Some Pigs Are More Equal Wed, 05 Jun 2013 13:53:37 +0000

In a letter sent (“VIA FEDERAL EXPRESS AND ELECTRONIC MAIL”) to Chrysler on Monday, the NHTSA requests that “Chrysler initiate a safety recall on MY 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee and MY 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty vehicles and implement a remedy action that improves their performance in rear-impacts and crashes.” The NHTSA illustrated its request with pictures of burned-out Jeeps, some of which are in this article.

Yesterday, Chrysler sent out a press release, stating that it “does not agree with NHTSA’s conclusions and does not intend to recall the vehicles cited in the investigation.” It is very rare that an automaker flat out denies such a request, especially one that documents scores of deaths. This is not an article about whether Chrysler is right or wrong. This is a story about curious double standards at the NHTSA. 


In 2009, the Center for Auto Safety requested that the NHTSA look into all 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee with a fuel tank behind the real axle.” Three and a half years later, the NHTSA came to the conclusion, that “there have been at least 32 fatal rear impact fire crashes involving Grand Cherokees resulting in 44 deaths,” along with at least 5 fatal rear impact crashes that have resulted in 7 deaths.” The NHTSA says that after the Pinto and Bobcat disasters of the 70s (which had about half the deaths of the Jeeps) automakers learned and put the gas tank “in less vulnerable locations than behind the rear axle.”

That insight was lost on Chrysler.  The WJ Grand Cherokee, built from 1999 through MY 2004, “was configured with a fuel tank located behind the rear axle,” says the NHTSA. What’s more, “the MY 2002 through 2007 Liberty has a fuel tank located aft of the rear axle and less than a foot forward of the aft face of the rear bumper.” All that “contravened industry trends,” the NHTSA opines.

Chrysler says the NHTSA is wrong, and that the agency’s “initial conclusions are based on an incomplete analysis of the underlying data.”

The NHTSA countered with a milquetoast statement. NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said that “NHTSA hopes that Chrysler will reconsider its position and take action to protect its customers and the driving public.”

Why Chrysler is digging in its heels is anybody’s guess. Relocating the fuel tank of 2.7 million SUVs is out of the question. However, the Center for Auto Safety estimates it would cost “Chrysler no more than $300 million to install a 3 millimeter steel skid, a fuel tank check valve and better fuel filler hose,” says CNN. Nothing doing, says Chrysler.

Comments Michelle Krebs of Edmunds:

“Chrysler must feel like it has a compelling reason to take such a bold stand. Since Toyota was publicly humiliated for dragging its feet on recalls just a few years ago, automakers have been quick to recall vehicles at NHTSA’s request.”

Speaking of Toyota, during the unintended acceleration frenzy, the government was more robust in its actions. At the same time the NHTSA looked into burning Jeeps in silence, the anti-Toyota campaign went full blast. Transportation Secretary LaHood asked people to stop driving Toyotas, the company was grilled on the Hill, and sentenced three times to pay the maximum fine. The company eventually was absolved. It was driver error. However, a stunned Toyota recalled everything it possibly could recall, and probably some more.

Some pigs definitely are more equal.

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NHTSA Asks Chrysler To Recall 2.7 Million Jeeps, Chrysler Says “No” Wed, 05 Jun 2013 12:00:13 +0000 2002-2004_Jeep_Liberty_Sport

In a rare display of defiance, Chrysler is refusing to comply with NHTSA’s request to recall 2.7 million SUVs, and is publicly challenging NHTSA on the validity of the recall.

NHTSA asked Chrysler to recall Grand Cherokee models made between 1993-2004 and Liberty models made between 2002-2007,  due to a defective fueling system that can lead to vehicle fires in rear end crashes. The agency has even blamed the alleged defect for as many as 51 deaths. But Chrysler has dug in its heels, issuing a statement and a white paper on NHTSA’s findings, stating

“The company does not agree with NHTSA’s conclusions and does not intend to recall the vehicles cited in the investigation. The subject vehicles are safe and are not defective…We believe NHTSA’s initial conclusions are based on an incomplete analysis of the underlying data, and we are committed to continue working with the agency to resolve this disagreement.”

In its own statement, NHTSA said that the Jeeps “…may contain a defect that presents an unreasonable risk to safety.” NHTSA has been investigating the models for some time, and Chrysler was first notified of the matter in September 2010. Chrysler has also been the subject of numerous lawsuits regarding the alleged defect.

According to Automotive News, The main point of contention appears to rest with rear crash standards. The two models were compliant with contemporary safety standards, but since 2008, the standard for rear impact fuel leakage had doubled. In addition, proposed modifications would apparently increase the risk of fires during side impact crashes, which are more prevalent.

While the matter may appear to be a squabble between Chrysler and NHTSA over arcane vehicle regulations, the subtext is much more interesting. A major OEM – an American one at that – is taking on NHTSA over a potentially touchy recall subject. Vehicle fires, lawsuits and deaths are all part and parcel of this story, and Chrysler is about to wage a bloody battle against NHTSA – these unpleasant topics will surely come up at some point.

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NHTSA Does Not Want Self-Driving Cars To Drive By Themselves Fri, 31 May 2013 14:06:12 +0000

I’m driven

Everybody seems to be on the bandwagon for self-driving cars, everybody except the NHTSA. In  new guidelines,  the NHTSA urges states to allow use of self-driving cars “only for testing and requiring safeguards to ensure they can be taken over by a driver in the case of malfunction,” the Detroit News writes.

“We believe there are a number of technological issues as well as human performance issues that must be addressed before self-driving vehicles can be made widely available,” NHTSA said. “Self-driving vehicle technology is not yet at the stage of sophistication or demonstrated safety capability that it should be authorized for use by members of the public for general driving purposes.”

NHTSA wants test drivers to get special licenses. If a state was to allow use of self-driving vehicles by the public, the agency urged them to require a special license and to mandate that person sit in the driver’s seat, ready to take over.

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NHTSA Releases New Distracted Driving Guidelines As Data Presents A Very Different Picture Wed, 24 Apr 2013 16:54:45 +0000

As part of their campaign against “distracted driving”, NHTSA has released new voluntary guidelines governing the use of in-car infotainment systems.

Among the core of the recommendations, as reported by Automotive News

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration specifically recommended disabling several operations unless a vehicle is stopped and in park:

• Manual text entry for the purposes of text messaging and internet browsing

• Video-based entertainment and communications such as video phoning or video conferencing

• Displaying certain types of text, including text messages, Web pages, and social-media content

Also recommended are guidelines for how many times drivers can touch a screen within a set time limit (6 touches for 12 seconds) to change things like the radio station or temperature.

Meanwhile, Juan Barnett over at DC Auto Geek has been compiling data on “distracted driving” for some time now, and when one really dives into it, it’s clear that cell phones and hand-held devices are really a minor issue in the grand scheme of things. Barnett previously lent TTAC a handy infographic that breaks down the causes behind “distracted driving”, while a recent guest post at Jalopnik provides a more in-depth examination of NHTSA’s own data.

Barnett shows that NHTSA’s data is full of vague catch-all categories, but the number of distracted driving events related to cell-phone use could be as high as 12 percent at best – and that’s when all cell phone category events are aggregated. Texting, as a specific category, accounts for just 1 percent of all distracted driving events. 39 Americans died from texting and driving in 2011, while 45 Americans died from syphilis, a disease that is generally considered a non-entity.

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Distracted Driving: An Infographic Tue, 09 Apr 2013 15:25:24 +0000  

Juan Barnett, aka DCAutoGeek, put together this infographic on “distracted driving” using NHTSA’s own data from their latest study. I’ll let you be the judge on the matter, but the numbers are straight from NHTSA itself.

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Ka-Ching: Toyota Pays NHTSA $17.36 Million Tue, 18 Dec 2012 13:47:23 +0000 Toyota has agreed to make a payment of $17.35 million to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This is “to settle claims related to the timeliness of its June 2012 recall to address the potential for accelerator pedal entrapment caused by unsecured or incompatible driver’s side floor mat in the 2010 Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h, without admitting to any violation of its obligations under the U.S. Safety Act.,” as a Toyota statement says. 

Toyota keeps making contributions to NHTSA’s funding. In 2010, Toyota was fined three\ times the maximum penalty of 16 million for violations stemming from pedal entrapment, sticky pedal and steering relay rod recalls.

Federal law requires that auto manufacturers notify NHTSA within five business days of determining that a safety defect exists. Says the NHTSA:

“In early 2012, NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation began noticing a trend in floor mat pedal entrapment in 2010 Lexus RX 350s in Vehicle Owner Questionnaires (VOQs) and Early Warning Reporting data. In May, NHTSA contacted Toyota regarding the trend, and a month later Toyota advised NHTSA that it was aware of 63 alleged incidents of possible floor mat pedal entrapment in Model Year 2010 Lexus RX 350s since 2009. Toyota’s own technicians and dealer technicians reported that certain alleged incidents of unwanted acceleration had been caused by floor mat pedal entrapment.”

Next year, the maximum fine NHTSA can assess will double to $35 million. Lawmakers wanted to raise the maximum fine to $300 million at some point, but the matter got stuck in committee.

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Beware Of The Killer Airbag From China, NHTSA Says Wed, 10 Oct 2012 15:02:49 +0000


Was your airbag replaced within the past three years? Did you buy a used car that sustained air bag deployment before you bought it? Did you buy a car with a salvage, rebuilt, or reconstructed title? Did you get a great deal on an air bag? In that case, be suspicious of your airbag, because it could kill you.

Gadzillions of cars could be driving around with airbags that fail to inflate during an accident, or that throw shrapnel at you when they do deploy, says the NHTSA.

The agency says ”the full scope and scale of the problem of counterfeit air bags is uncertain from currently available data,” but it “believes this issue affects less than 0.1 percent of the U.S. vehicle fleet.” At 250 million registered vehicles on the road, that would be around (or less than …) 250,000 cars with possibly lethal airbags lurking in the dash.

It also could be a big boon to new car dealerships. The NHTSA says that airbags replaced by new car dealerships are safe, but you should worry if and independent workshop did it.

Airbags are hidden away and cannot be checked by amateurs. The NHTSA recommends that possibly affected customers call their manufacturer and “have their vehicle inspected at their own expense and their air bag replaced if necessary.“

A dealer inspection likely will cost $100 or more. Replacing an airbag could go into the thousands.

The NHTSA released a list of nearly 100 vehicles that could have counterfeit air bags. Most popular brands and makes are on it.

The NHTSA does not say where the counterfeit airbags are from, but the Detroit News already fingered the usual suspects: “Most, if not all, of the replacement safety devices were made in China.”

Fake airbags are not the only problem. “Crooked body shops are stealing airbags from vehicles to make a quick dollar at your expense,” warns a website by the Coalition Against . Insurance Fraud. “Mechanics can easily remove your airbag without your knowing it.” They could even bill you $2,000 or more for “replacing” a good one with a fake one or none at all.

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Traffic Deaths Up Slightly, Truth Among The Victims Wed, 03 Oct 2012 13:32:45 +0000  

16,290 people were killed in road accidents from January through June, says the NHTSA. For the first time since 2006, deaths are up. The NHTSA does not know why fatalities are up, but the usual suspects have already been rounded up.

Said Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, to Reuters:

“Clearly there’s room for improvement in distracted driving – we would like all 50 states to pass texting bans. We’d practically eliminate alcohol impaired driving if we could get all offenders to use an ignition interlock.”

In the meantime, even the NHTSA warns that one should not jump to conclusions:

It should be noted that the historic downward trend in traffic fatalities in the past several years —a pattern which has continued through the early estimates for 2011 released recently that show deaths at a 60-year low — means any comparison will be to an unprecedented low baseline figure. In fact, fatalities during the first half of the year have declined by about 27 percent from the recent high in 2006 to the low during the first half of 2011 (from 20,500 fatalities in 2006 to a projected 14,950 fatalities in 2011 during the first six months of the year).”

Apparently, Ms. Harsha did not read that part. Instead she says that “We may just be going back to the way it was before.”

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How CAFE Killed Compact Trucks And Station Wagons Mon, 01 Oct 2012 18:50:30 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Close your eyes and imagine it’s 1979. A first-term Democratic president struggles with unemployment, malaise, high energy prices, and embassy trouble. The landscape of today looks like the landscape of then, but there’s one important thing missing: The compact pickup. Where did they go? The small pickup was an indelible symbol of America’s lowered expectations in the Seventies and Eighties. Now that crappy times are here again, where are the paper-thin truck beds and wheezy-but-indestructible four-cylinders to pull them?

As car guys, we tend to view things through a certain lens; the design and performance characteristics of a car are what’s considered important. The proliferation of cars and trucks that are antithetical to these characteristics, like crossovers and larger, heavier passenger cars, are something that we’ve collectively lamented for some time. But to understand why this has happened, we need to view product decisions through the lens of CAFE and its incentives. The choices of American consumers are a factor; we like to buy pickups and SUVs, no doubt. But what if the government’s decisions played a part in moving the market, and the very laws set up to ostensibly promote more fuel efficient vehicles ended up doing the opposite?

CAFE for Decaf drinkers

CAFE (industry short hand for Corporate Average Fuel Economy) came as a result of the 1973 oil embargo, as a means to mandate fuel economy targets for cars and light trucks. Over the last four decades, the standards have evolved, with the latest iteration being the targets set for fuel economy in the year 2025. The 2025 targets were released this summer, and comprise a 1,944 page tome full of arcane language and legalese that, while essential for understanding CAFE, are totally inaccessible to the general public. No wonder, as our Editor Emeritus Ed Niedermeyer wrote

“…only a handful of experts truly understand the details of CAFE compliance, with its complex system of footprint-based categories, formula and credits.”

One of CAFEs biggest impacts in recent times has manifested itself in how auto makers classify products. Under CAFE, vehicles can be labeled “passenger cars” or “light trucks”, with the latter category required to meet less stringent standards for fuel economy and CO2 emissions. A decade ago, the Chrysler PT Cruiser was the most egregious example of this.

( N.B. CAFE uses the EPA’s unadjusted fuel economy standard, so the mpg values discussed in relation to CAFE bear little resemblance to the real world values used on Monroney stickers and common discourse on fuel economy. For our purposes, we’ll refer to the fuel economy numbers we are familiar with as “In Real Life” (IRL)  to distinguish them from the CAFE numbers. )

Despite being based on a Neon platform and retaining the dimensions of a compact car, it was classified as a light truck by NHTSA.  The PT Cruiser was designed to meet NHTSA standards for classification as a light truck, for the express purpose of raising Chrysler’s light truck average fuel economy. At the time, the minimum fleet average for passenger cars was 27.5 mpg CAFE, while for light trucks it was 20.7 mpg CAFE. A small, four-cylinder vehicle like the PT Cruiser was effectively a “ringer” for Chrysler’s fleet average. The year 2000 CAFE targets discussed above translate to 21 mpg IRL for passenger cars and 15 mpg IRL for light trucks.  A “light truck” like the PT would obviously have no trouble surpassing these standards.

In 2006, CAFE altered the formula for its 2011 fuel economy targets, by calculating a vehicle’s “footprint”, which is the vehicle’s wheelbase multiplied by its wheel track. The footprint is expressed in square feet, and calculating this value is probably the most transparent part of the regulations. Fuel economy targets are a function of a vehicle’s footprint; the smaller the footprint, the tougher the standards are. A car such as the Honda Fit, with its footprint of 40 square feet, has to achieve 61 mpg CAFE, or 43 mpg IRL by 2025 to comply with regulations. At the opposite end of the spectrum, a full-size truck like the Ford F-150, with a footprint of 75 square feet, only needs to hit 30 mpg CAFE, or 23 mpg IRL, by the same timeframe.

How the fix is in

On the surface, the footprint requirements can be viewed as logical; a compact, fuel-efficient car like the Honda Fit, should be able to hit tougher targets, by virtue of its small size, aerodynamic profile and powertrain choices. Without any advanced technology like direct-injection, lightweight steel or aluminum construction or even low-rolling resistance tires, it manages a respectable 28/35 mpg IRL, while offering a practical, fun-to-drive package. The Ford F-150 has a very different mission; it must be large, durable, powerful and able to meet the needs of a full-size pickup, and will naturally be less conducive to achieving the kind of fuel economy that a Fit can.

Unfortunately, the footprint method has the opposite effect; rather than encouraging auto makers to strive for unprecedented fuel economy in their passenger car offerings, it has incentivized auto makers to build larger cars, in particular, more car-based crossovers that can be classified as “trucks” as used to skew fleet average figures, much the same way the PT Cruiser did. Full-size trucks have become a “protected class”, safe from the most aggressive targets, while compact trucks have become nearly extinct as a result.

Real world examples

Before we can delve into the demise of compact trucks, we need to examine how the footprint formula works, and how it allowed the car-based crossover to usurp the station wagon as America’s family hauler of choice.

The footprint is expressed graphically via the “curve”, which plots a vehicle’s footprint on the X axis and CAFE mpg on the Y axis. There are different graphs for cars and light trucks, and as we’ll see below, a car and a light truck with identical footprints are subject to very different standards. (N.B. the full document is available here, with the full-size curve graphs on page 29 and 30)

A concrete example of this phenomenon is Volvo’s decision to do away with the traditional wagon at the start of this decade. Wagons are what put Volvo on the map in North America. The rear-drive 200, 700 and 900 wagons held universal appeal for their durability and sportiness, while the 850 and V70 cemented their place in the mainstream, as a car for those who were upper-middle class, or aspiring to be.

Volvo’s current lineup offers two SUVs, the XC60 and XC90 and one pseudo-wagon, the XC70. The XC70 is virtually identical to the V70, Volvo’s stalwart station wagon, save for some extra ground clearance and lower body cladding. But while the V70 was classified as a passenger car, the XC70 joins its siblings as a “sports utility vehicle” according to the EPA. The fuel economy of the entire XC lineup is far from stellar. The best XC models, the front drive variants of the XC60 and XC70 with the naturally aspirated 3.2L inline-six engine, return 19/25 mpg IRL. The V70, in 2010 (its final year of sale for North America) returned 18/27 mpg IRL. All three vehicles have footprints of 48 square feet. The key difference is that while the V70 is a passenger car, the XC models are light trucks, and of course, given an easier time regarding CAFE compliance.

Mazda is another company that must also play against the stacked deck of CAFE. The Mazda6 wagon was offered here for a few years, and axed after it sold poorly. For 2014, Mazda is launching a third-generation Mazda6, including a gorgeous station wagon (and yes, a diesel engine), but it won’t be coming here. Enthusiast blogs have been harping on Mazda’s decision to withhold the car from the U.S. market, but a simple analysis using CAFE methodology reveals why. The wagon, with its footprint of 48 square feet, is subject to the same standards as the Volvo V70. On the other hand, the Mazda CX-5, with a footprint of 45.6 square feet, is smaller, and again, subject to light truck fuel economy standards. For a model that must be sold over 5-6 years (as previous generations were), the Mazda6 wagon starts out having to achieve a CAFE mpg figure in the high 30s.

Assuming the model lasts until 2020, the Mazda6 would have to achieve fuel economy figures in the high 40 mpg CAFE range. Engineering a low volume, niche market wagon for sale in America that would be subject to increasingly tough targets is arguably beyond their means, especially given the small volumes the car would sell in. Instead, Mazda offers the CX-5 crossover. Aside from being classified as a crossover, with all the CAFE advantages built in, the CX-5 is able to sell in economically viable volumes not just in the United States, but across the globe. The realities of CAFE have likely made sales of the third generation Mazda6 wagon impossible in the United States.

CAFE’s other victim is the compact truck segment. Many consumers don’t need a full-size truck (whether they acknowledge it or not), and the Ford Ranger, along with GM’s own compact pickups, had respectable followings among consumers looking for a smaller fuel-efficient pickup.

But the Ranger happens to fall into the “dead zone” of the CAFE footprint formula. Both curve graphs show a flat line at 55 square feet; in practical terms, a Mercedes-Benz S-Class carries this footprint. The Ranger, even in SuperCab configuration, has a footprint of 50 square feet, just short of the magic number. The best Ranger, fuel economy-wise, was a 4-cylinder manual truck, returning 22/27 mpg IRL; a respectable number, but one only available in a configuration that a minority of buyers would opt for. Equipped with a V6 and an automatic transmission, it would only return 14/18 mpg IRL, a figure that can be equalled by certain version of Ford’s V6 and V8 F-150 full-size pickups. By 2025, a theoretical Ranger with a footprint of 50 square feet would have to achieve fuel economy somewhere approaching 50 mpg CAFE. The 75 square foot F-150 would only have to reach in the high 30s CAFE.

Ford will offer a new Ranger in world markets, but again, it won’t come here. GM, on the other hand, plans to offer their new mid-size Colorado and Canyon trucks here, but the reasons for Ford and GM’s divergence aren’t as cut and dried as they are in the case of Mazda and Volvo. Ford has decided to offer full-size trucks exclusively, with the V6 options as a means of attracting economy-minded buyers, and perhaps taking advantage of CAFE regulations (not to mention, sell more F-Series, which are immensely profitable).

GM’s strategy is to forgo to advanced V6 powertrains that Ford offers, and market their full-size trucks alongside their smaller stable mates. If Ford offered a Ranger, it could theoretically cannibalize sales of the lower end F-150s, while muddling their marketing message. GM will presumably have no such conflict. Chrysler is rumored to be taking a third route; offering advanced V6s in their RAM trucks, while exploring a car-based compact pickup, possibly based off of a Fiat product. A truck like that would be a huge boon as far as CAFE compliance goes, and put a decisive nail in the coffin of the Dakota, which offered a V8 engine in a compact body.

Cui Bono

In the trial of Sextus Roscius, a young Cicero defended him by posing a famously concise question; “Cui Bono?”, or “who benefits?” CAFE merits a similar line of inquiry.

When examined side by side with European emissions standards, the economics of CAFE become more transparent. EU are relatively straight forward by comparison. Tailpipe CO2 emissions are measured and a de facto consumption tax is levied based on a vehicle’s output. There are no footprint formulas or regulatory loopholes that can be manipulated, though there are different standards for diesel and gasoline engines. Either way, the principle is the same; if you want a bigger, more powerful engine, you will have to pay for it via increased taxes. The most tangible examples of these policies in effect are the newly downsized motors being fitted in American-sized cars, like the 1.0L three-cylinder Ford Mondeo (our Fusion).

On the other hand, a consumption tax related to the profligacy of their vehicle would be disastrous to the Big Three. Full-size trucks, rather than cars, are the profit-makers for the Big Three, and no segment has more to lose from tough CAFE standards. The official line is that the big pickups and SUVs have to make up the most ground when it comes to fuel economy, so they are given more leeway with the regulations.

But the reality is that Detroit’s car makers need trucks to be affordable to stay in business. CAFE compliance for full-size trucks is a major topic in the auto industry, with concerns about rising costs being a major bugaboo for the Big Three. Ford is said to be moving to an aluminum body for the next F-150, while various reports have claimed that compliance with CAFE 2025 standards could add as much as $15,000 to the cost of a full-size truck. This kind of financial burden would make pickup trucks unaffordable to a significant portion of its customer base, and erode a massive source of profits for American automakers. As Niedermeyer noted, full size trucks would “…become a purely professional purchase, bought only by those who use them for work or by the wealthy.” A European-style consumption tax based on emissions of fuel efficiency would be devastating for the full-sized truck market, and it’s hardly a coincidence that CAFE is structured in such a way that best protects these vehicles.

In this context, it’s easy to see why the two major dissenters from the 2025 CAFE rules were Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz. Representatives from both companies spoke out candidly about CAFE, with a Volkswagen spokesman stating

“The proposal encourages manufacturers and customers to shift toward larger, less-efficient vehicles, defeating the goal of reduced greenhouse-gas emissions.”

Mercedes-Benz was equally forceful, claiming that CAFE

“clearly favors large SUVs and pickup trucks. Our customers expect a range of vehicles from which to choose so this program creates a very real disconnect between government regulation and customer demand.”

Europe’s own Euro VI standards measure a grand total of 18 pages in PDF format, and are generally regarded as stricter than CAFE. That, combined with the substantially more egalitarian nature of the consumption tax model employed by Euro VI brings the legitimacy of CAFE into question even further.

Ironically, CAFE has much in common with the chicken tax, which is erroneously cited as being the sole impediment to the success of compact pickups in America. Both are horribly protectionist, anti-market laws that restrict consumer choice and give an unfair advantage to homegrown manufacturers. But at least the chicken tax compelled the OEMs to build compact pickups Stateside. Under CAFE, there isn’t just no reason to do so – there is every reason not to do so.


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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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Feds Push NY Towards Full Ban On Electronic Devices In Cars Wed, 15 Feb 2012 20:35:02 +0000

Citing New York’s leadership in banning hand-held cell phone use in cars, NTSB Vice Chairman Christopher Hart urged the Empire State to become the first to ban all use of personal electronic devices while driving. Though careful to call it a state issue, Hart did hint that state compliance with forthcoming NTSB recommendations could be tied to federal highway funds (he has separately called for a national ban).

And indeed, New York’s legislators seemed to see the issue of distraction as an issue for federal action (but then, why not make the feds pay for it?). At the same time, everyone understands that the problem is near-ubiquitous and any full ban on personal device use in cars would be near-impossible to enforce (short of Assemblyman McDonough’s suggestion that automakers equip cars with cell-phone signal blockers)… which raises huge questions about federal-level action.

Hart says enforcement will be a major topic of an NTSB forum, scheduled for March 27 (note: the forum is not yet listed on the NTSB’s events page). With the NTSB pushing hard on what was once largely a rhetorical issue, goading the notoriously-nannying New York government towards a full ban on in-car device use, this forum should be a good measure of the feds’ resolve.

After all, everyone knows that distracted driving is wrong (with the possible exception of automakers, who load ever more distractions into their cars)… it’s just a question of how much government intrusion would be necessary to stop it. If Ray LaHood’s minions go for broke and pursue an enforcement rather than an education approach at their forum (as they did with their NY pilot program), this debate could blow up into pitched political warfare overnight.

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