The Truth About Cars » Politics http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 22:57:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Politics http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com UAW, VW Works Council Regrouping Under Voting Fallout http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/uaw-vw-works-council-regrouping-under-voting-fallout/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/uaw-vw-works-council-regrouping-under-voting-fallout/#comments Mon, 17 Feb 2014 11:00:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=742985 2012AerialfromWest

Following the 712 – 629 decision against representation by the United Auto Workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., the union may be forced to throw in the towel on foreign-owned auto factories as the automaker’s works council vow to press forward with plans to establish their brand of representation in the plant.

Bloomberg and Reuters report that though the UAW may have been thwarted in their recent organizing efforts at the plant by third-party organizations and local and state politicians opposed to the union, Volkswagen’s works council remains undeterred, according to council secretary general Gunnar Kilian in a statement:

We have always stressed that the decision over union representation lies in the hands of the workers in Chattanooga. The result of the election has not changed our goal of creating a works council in Chattanooga.

Kilian and VW Global Works Council Secretary General Frank Patta are expected to travel to the United States in the next two weeks to meet and consult with labor law experts to determine the next steps needed to bring a works council to the U.S. plant.

Meanwhile, the UAW remains optimistic in the face of the Chattanooga vote for the time being, with support from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

The closeness of the results and the courage and tenacity of union supporters prove that this election is a minor setback, and not a permanent defeat. The ferocity of the anti-union forces only reinforces the fact that there is a powerful new form of organizing emerging.

The union faced opposition by anti-union groups, including one with ties to anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, and Tennessee Republican political leaders such as Governor Bill Haslam and former Chattanooga mayor and current U.S. Senator Bob Corker.

In the long-term, and with membership hovering around 400,000 after falling 75 percent from a peak of 1.5 million in 1979, the UAW may be forced to extend its hand to workers outside of the automotive industry, such as motel maids and university assistants, while walking away from the effort to represent transplant factory workers.

Clark University labor law professor Gary Chaison noted that representation at the VW plant would have bolstered efforts to unionize other Southern plants, such as Daimler AG’s MBUSI plant in Vance, Ala. However, the roadmap may need to be redrawn:

This is a time for soul-searching at the UAW and within the American labor movement. This was the ideal situation and they know that. They might just give up on transplants.

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Scrambling the Politics of Mass Transit in San Francisco http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/scrambling-the-politics-of-mass-transit-in-san-francisco/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/scrambling-the-politics-of-mass-transit-in-san-francisco/#comments Mon, 23 Dec 2013 11:00:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=686034 googlebus

Image from Twitter @craigsfrost

Positively or negatively, mass transit is often viewed as a social leveler. Rich and poor alike ride the subway in New York, London and Berlin. Atlantans of all economic and social backgrounds make use of MARTA’s facilities, as they do in many other American cities where public transit is the most efficient way of navigating the inner cities. Of course, these are public systems, funded by fares and taxpayer money.

 

They fulfill the transportation needs of a wide segment of the population, and they generally give the same level of service regardless of income or status. In areas that aren’t as densely urbanized as the aforementioned examples and where car ownership for city dwellers is a more practical proposition, mass transit usage tends to skew towards a less affluent demographic. As a political football, mass transit can thus be kicked in many directions depending on ideological necessity. However, the underlying assumption for either end of the political spectrum remains the same: mass transit is an equalizer. But what happens when this typical political equation is turned on its head? Could riding the bus be considered a show of affluence instead of equality or penury? Protestors in the San Francisco bay area seem to think so.

On December 20th, demonstrators blocked the paths of two private buses (operated by tech firms Google and Apple) in a protest action. In Oakland and in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco, protestors held up the buses when they stopped to collect employees. This was the second such action in two weeks. Previous protests were peaceful, but in Oakland things got ugly. The Google bus had a window broken and tires slashed; protestors dispersed after police were called, with no arrests or citations issued. Before they left, protestors harangued bus riders and handed out copies of this supremely classy flyer. Many of the largest tech firms with headquarters in the area run private bus lines that ferry workers from the city to the suburbs. This sort of anti-Levittown arrangement has led to simmering tensions between employees of the tech giants and other city residents.

So what’s driving these protests? In a word, gentrification. The expansion of tech firms on the city’s outskirts and general economic recovery since the Great Recession has driven up rents enormously within the city. The median rental rate for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is now almost $2800 a month, a 27% increase since 2011. Protestors blame new arrivals to the city for skyrocketing rents, a new wave of evictions, and overall social unrest. They claim that Google, Apple, and other tech companies are turning older neighborhoods into bedroom communities for their employees. This is done, they say, with little regard for the impact on long-term residents, many of whom live in rent-controlled apartments. The bus services are the most obvious manifestation of this trend, and have thus become a target for protestors.

Tech companies offer shuttle service between the city and their suburban campuses as an employment perk. These unregulated private buses often use public stops to pick up and drop off employees, without paying anything to city. This has generated complaints about congestion and obstruction of public buses. Some metro San Francisco buses have been forced to stop short or to let passengers off in the middle of the street, undoubtedly an irritating circumstance. The city is currently in negotiations with Google and other tech companies to institute a fee system for use of public stops, and to prevent congestion. But it’s clear that frustration with the situation has already transcended bureaucratic dialogue.

One can sympathize with the concerns of protestors about the upheaval in established neighborhoods and the misuse of public facilities. Forking over the better part of three grand a month for a one-bedroom apartment seems insane anywhere outside of Manhattan or Tokyo. But attacking the workers responsible for a city’s economic renaissance is surely a self-defeating strategy. New construction may help alleviate housing pressures, as thousands of city apartments are scheduled to become available within the next several years. Until then, the city’s longtime residents and the architects of the new tech boom will have to learn to live with each other. In this case, riding the bus divides citizens rather than uniting them.

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Iran’s Imported Chevrolet Camaros Raise Questions About GM’s Dealings With PSA And The Iranian Regime http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/irans-imported-chevrolet-camaros-raise-questions-about-gms-dealings-with-psa-and-the-iranian-regime/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/irans-imported-chevrolet-camaros-raise-questions-about-gms-dealings-with-psa-and-the-iranian-regime/#comments Thu, 07 Nov 2013 14:26:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=644722 IRAN-_USA_obama-rouhani_CALL

An obscure story in the Azerbaijani press this past summer may be the tip of a much larger iceberg involving General Motors, PSA Peugeot Citroen and the Western World’s current bete noir: the Iranian regime currently embroiled at the heart of a controversial nuclear program, which is subject to economic sanctions by the United States government, including those that specifically target Iran’s automotive industry.

Citing reports from Iran’s Mehr news agency, an Azerbaijani news outlet reported that an unspecified number of brand new Chevrolet Camaro RS 2LT convertibles were imported by a division of Iranian conglomerate Iran Khodro. According to the report, the Camaros were sent from Miami to Paris, and then from Paris to Tehran via a Qatar Airways plane. The report also states that US Customs and Border Patrol documents list the final destination as the Aras Free Trade and Industrial Zone.

Iran Khodro, which manufactures automobiles in Iran, is among the Iranian industrial entities that has been hit hard by American sanctions against Iran, including those that specifically target its auto industry, which some parties allege is a “major procurement network that imports material and technologies used to build uranium centrifuges instead of cars.

Given the serious penalties for violating sanctions against Iran, it seems unthinkable at first glance that General Motors vehicles would be exported to Iran for sale without any consequences. GM even stipulated that PSA suspend doing business with Iran and IKCO as part of its alliance agreement with PSA, an agreement that seems to have stalled at this point. But a deeper dive into the matter reveals a much more complex picture, one that sheds more light on GM’s future positioning in emerging markets, its dealings with Iran itself, and what may be the true nature of its alliance with PSA.

The ties between PSA and IKCO have historically been very strong. Most of IKCO’s cars were Peugeot vehicles of varying ages, branded as Iran Khodro or Peugeot vehicles, and built in Iranian factories. In a market of 1.12 million units annually, IKCO had production capacity for a million units per year, with IKCO and PSA’s joint venture ruling the vast majority of those sales, while their factories ran very close to capacity in previous years. PSA alone accounted for roughly 458,000 units sold in Iran, while PSA rival Renault also had a strong interest in Iran, selling 100,000 units per year, until it withdrew from the country, citing fears of violating U.S sanctions as a reason for walking away from the Iranian market.

Now, various French news outlets, including Le Figaro, a respected daily newspaper, are accusing General Motors of intentionally gutting PSA’s ability to do business in Iran, while attempting to establish its own partnership with IKCO, as a means of securing a strong footing in the up and coming Iranian market, one that Boston Consulting Group estimates is good for 1.5 million units per year by 2020, making it one of the strongest of the “Beyond BRIC” countries.

Le Figario states that

Iranian automotive industry is particularly courted by General Motors . The giant came into contact with Iran Khodro, which worked until 2012 with Peugeot to produce 206 and 405 models that the French group has stopped delivering to Iran because of Western sanctions imposed on Tehran for its nuclear ambitions . ”For at least six months as emissaries of General Motors go to Iran, they are no longer the simple identification of the market,” warns the industry, “but rather to the draft contract resumption of GM “, which was firmly established in the time of the Shah.

Le Figaro alleges that GM is not the only company to be looking to Iran if and when relations between America and Iran thaw amid a resolution over its nuclear crisis, but it does call out an ad campaign on behalf of GM undertaken by an Iranian law firm – other reports also point to a social media campaign designed to target Iranian consumers on behalf of GM. Other allegations leveled at GM include the use of emissaries on behalf of GM visiting Iran and IKCO as part of a broader push to undermine established French business interests in favor of American companies in preparation for the resumption of commercial dealings with Iran. One source cited by Le Figaro doesn’t think that this was a mere coincidence. The source claims that Executive Order 13645 is

“…a real cleansing of the Iranian car market as it prepares to make way for U.S. manufacturers before a political deal between Tehran and Washington.”

Upon closer examination, sale of the Camaros appears to be allowed under a loophole in Executive Order 13645 , which punishes any foreign entity that sells or supplies parts or services to Iran’s automotive industry (specifically its manufacturing sector) but does not prohibit supplying Iran with assembled vehicles.

During the initial stages of the tie-up, the alliance between GM and PSA was difficult to discern. Beyond vague platform sharing and purchasing agreements, there seemed to be few synergies that made such an alliance worthwhile. By the Iranian angle adds context to the entire affair.

By putting pressure on PSA to end its relationship with IKCO, GM gave America a way to keep the heat on Iran’s economy while also cutting off an artery for hard currency via reduced vehicle exports. At the same time, it was able to cripple an already ailing partner by cutting it off from one of its better export markets, and a growing one at that. Before the alliance had even been former, our own global sales reports showed that sanctions and other economic factors had been effective at gutting Iran’s automotive market, composed largely of locally built IKCO/PSA products. The departure of Renault was another positive development for GM, with the French auto maker walking away from 100,000 units annually. Altogether, the absence of the two French players leaves a 585,000 unit hole in Iran’s nearly 1 million strong auto market, one that GM is primed to capitalize on if and when things get less frosty and trade relations between the two countries open up .

Many observers feel that Iran’s Islamic regime is living on borrowed time, thanks to a relatively young population that is plugged into Western popular culture – these same people came very close to toppling the regime just a few years ago. And while regime change doesn’t seem to be in the cards anymore, then the very sanctions designed to bring the regime to its knees might at least foment some sort of normalization of relations in exchange for the forfeiture of Iran’s nuclear program, along with a new, more moderate ruler (though Iran’s unelected religious leaders still hold all the power). Such vast numbers of young people with rising economic prospects and families of their own on the horizon will be perfect consumers for a large number of automobiles in the future, and who better to serve them than General Motors?

The timing is likely to be fortuitous, as Iran’s auto market is expected to grow by another 500,000 units, to roughly 1.5 million units by the end of the decade. GM’s push won’t be centered around Camaros either. The General has a number of Chinese brands selling cheap, compact vehicles that can go head to head with Chinese brands like Great Wall that are already established in Iran. If GM really does make a big push into Iran, brands like Wuling and Baojun will be just as important as Chevrolet and Buick, and will likely be part of an attempt to capture a substantial amount of volume by utilizing multiple brands in GM’s portfolio to help capture various market segments from compact low-cost cars to flashier fare to the smaller commercial vehicles that brands like Wuling are known for.

Platform sharing, the oft reported cause of death of the GM-PSA alliance, may have been a red herring all along. GM could possibly have decided to abandon the alliance, or any pretense of it, after getting what they came for: in this case, an express pass to a promising emerging market that isn’t a BRIC country. But don’t count PSA out just yet. Recent talks with Chinese auto maker Dongfeng could allow it to get back in the game in Iran, free of any concerns about violating U.S. sanctions.

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$57 Million Chicago Ford Dealership Delayed As Aldermen Play Politics http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/57-million-chicago-ford-dealership-delayed-as-aldermen-play-politics/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/57-million-chicago-ford-dealership-delayed-as-aldermen-play-politics/#comments Tue, 13 Aug 2013 21:25:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=499269 110428wardremap

FMG Holdings, which operates a number of car dealerships in western Michigan under the name of Fox Motors, had planned on spending $57 million turning an abandoned industrial site on Chicago’s North Side into a large Ford store but it has now given Chicago politicians an Oct. 1st deadline to either approve or deny their zoning application after the issue has gotten mired in local politics and injected with the issue of race.

According to Automotive News, FMG had approached Alederman Scott Waguespack about his support of their plan to develop a 102,000 square foot Ford dealership in his ward, Chicago’s 32nd. The store would replace a defunct dealership also in Chicago, and it would employ about 200 people.

Waguespack solicited feedback from constituents, who approved, so he decided to support FMG, though he turned down their request for a tax-increment financing subsidy. The Chicago Plan Commission also approved the zoning request, but then the plan stalled after other aldermen representing predominantly Hispanic wards got involved, asking what Ford has done to give franchises to Hispanics.

One of the aldermen, Danny Solis, chairman of the City Council’s Latino Caucus, also chairs the City Council Committee on Zoning, which has tabled Fox’s request twice. Solis gives Ford’s lack of any Hispanic owned dealerships in the Chicago area as his reason. ”We want some form of commitment from Ford,” Solis says. “Ford should be sensitive to giving a fair shake to the Hispanic community.”

While Ford may not have any stores in Chicagoland owned by Latinos, one particular Latino, Jose Diaz, whose family used to own a Miami, Florida Chrysler dealership and who is said to maintain a residence in Chicago, seems to be the person that Solis has in mind, as it is Diaz’s name that Solis has suggested to Ford. Diaz has been promoting his own plan to open up a dealership in a different location than in the 32nd ward. He’s also given campaign contributions to Latino aldermen, inlcuding $6,800 to Solis’  25th Ward Regular Democratic Organization. Solis denies a connection between those contributions and his inaction on Fox’s zoning request.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s office said that the request will come up for a committee vote on Sept. 4 and a full city council vote later in September.

Because of the delay, Fox says that it had to extend an option to purchase that would have expired in early August but a spokeswoman said that it would be the last extension the company would seek and that if a decision wasn’t rendered before October, they would walk away. Still, the company knows it has to be diplomatic.

“From our experience, when you go through zoning, it has to do with whether you’re complying with the law,” Monica Sekulich, general counsel at Fox Motors, told the Automotive News. ”We’re frustrated by the [Chicago] process. But we’re optimists. … We are excited about doing this deal.”

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American Sanctions Forced Renault Out Of Iran http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/how-sanctions-forced-renault-out-of-iran/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/how-sanctions-forced-renault-out-of-iran/#comments Fri, 26 Jul 2013 16:37:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=497141 Dacia_Logan

Following PSA’s exit from Iran last year, Renault is the latest French car maker to leave the Middle Eastern country, thanks to American derived sanctions.

La Tribune reports that Renault will stand to lose about 100,000 units worth of sales in Iran, with variants of the Dacia Logan making up the bulk of their volume. Renault built the cars locally in a joint-venture with IKCO (also a partner of PSA), with Renault holding a 51 percent stake.

Renault’s Carlos Tavares cited American sanctions on trade with Iran as a driving force behind the decision. Violating the sanctions would have had major implications for Renault-Nissan, namely difficulties doing business in the United States. While PSA’s exit was largely blamed on pressure from alliance partner General Motors, Renault’s own decision to leave appears to be motivated solely by the consequences of non-compliance.

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Tesla Dodges A Legislative Bullet http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/tesla-dodges-a-legislative-bullet/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/tesla-dodges-a-legislative-bullet/#comments Mon, 24 Jun 2013 12:30:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=493103 450x307xTesla-Japan-Picture-courtesy-cleveland.com_-450x307.jpg.pagespeed.ic.XfzUsQfxqK

A proposed law that would have eliminated Tesla’s ability to sell cars in New York state has died on the vine, after lawmakers adjourned their legislative session without taking any action on the bill.

The bills, introduced in both the lower house and state Senate, would make it illegal for an auto maker to operate a dealership in the state, and any current licenses would be ineligible for renewal, save for those issues prior to July 1, 2006, which would be grandfathered in. Tesla has faced various legislative battles in Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, Massachusetts, and Minnesota and has so far succeeded only in Minnesota.

Tesla would have had to close their three stores and two service centers in New York if the bill passed. Lee Zeldin, a Long Island Republican who sponsored the bill in the upper house, reportedly proposed a separate measure to make an exception for Tesla, echoing a “compromise” from Mark Scheinberg, the head of the Greater New York Auto Dealers Association. Scheinberg told Automotive News that he had offered to extend the grandfathering date, but Tesla refused. Even so, he denied trying to put them out of business, since, after all, Tesla could still establish a franchised dealer network.

According to AN, Tesla denied ever receiving the compromise – and even if they had, they would have rejected it.

 

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Analysis: Will Cars Be “The Cigarette Of The Future”? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/analysis-will-cars-be-the-cigarette-of-the-future/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/analysis-will-cars-be-the-cigarette-of-the-future/#comments Wed, 08 May 2013 12:30:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=487756 London_Congestion_Charge,_Old_Street,_England

TTAC’s forays into areas like law, politics and economics are not everyone’s cup of tea, but they do matter. The dry, dense topics like regulation and financial topics have real implications for car enthusiasts, not to mention society as a whole. One subset of that is urban planning, a discipline which can have an enormous impact on our favorite hobby.

Witness the remarks made at the Energy Tomorrow Conference. Sponsored by the New York Times, the theme of this gather is “Building Sustainable Cities”. The IEEE Spectrum quotes Lerner as stating that in the future, the private automobile will become a socially unacceptable vice

Jaime Lerner, a former mayor of Brazil’s Curtiba, known for the work he did there introducing an integrated mass transportation system that has been copied the world over, expressed the belief that cars some day soon will be seen as noxious as tobacco is today. “The car is going to be the cigarette of the future,” Lerner said.

For Lerner, who is best known for pioneering innovative public transportation programs in Brazil, the private automobile is an issue of social justice itself. It is not just a matter of carbon emissions or energy conservation, but the automobile’s mere existence offends him. His sentiments were echoed by Enrique Penalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, who said that

 ”If we are all equal before the law, a bus carrying 100 people should be entitled to 100 times as much road space as a private car.”

If you think that these are just the senile ravings of aging Latin populist politicians, then you might be a bit surprised to find that these kinds of opinions will wind up on your doorstep sooner rather than later. To these types, the private automobile represents a mobility solution based on top-down hierarchical structures (as my least favorite sociology professor would say) that empowers the individual. They would like to see it replaced with collective forms of mobility, like car sharing, public transportation and cycling. I got my first taste of it a number of years ago when a prominent local politician hit a cyclist, resulting in his death.

It didn’t matter that the cyclist was found to be intoxicated and the aggressor in the situation, while the motorist was later absolved of any wrongdoing. The mere fact that he was a wealthy white male driving a Saab convertible while the other party was an Indigenous Canadian of a lower socioeconomic background with a history of mental illness and substance abuse provided the perfect catalyst for these sorts of theories to be floated among the more radical newspapers in my town.

As a resident of a dense, urban neighborhood, it would be disingenuous of me to dismiss cycling, public transit and even walking as real alternatives to our mobility needs. Practicality is another matter. On a balmy 70 degree day like today, walking or biking to the grocery store to buy a carton of eggs is not a big deal. When the forecast calls for freezing rain, getting a whole load of groceries on foot is unpleasant, to say the least. And not all public transit systems are created equally either, as one of our writers discussed last year.

Congestion is a major issue in urban centers, and something will have to be done about it. Cities are experimenting with congestion charges, road tolls and expanded public transit, but nobody has a definitive solution. I wish I knew what the answer was, and if I did, I would be racking up appearance fees rather than writing at TTAC. But heavy-handed, top down solutions are not the answer. The next generation of urban planners are being educated in universities by liberal arts faculty members hold views that are largely not representative of the opinions and needs of the general public. Combine that with a growing apathy for the automobile among young people and you create a situation where anti-car sentiment is easily bred. Look no further than the move to ban EV charging stations from urban areas as a perfect example of their utter refusal to meet reality on reality’s terms.

Even as gas prices rise higher and higher and the cost of new cars increase, people still opt for their own private transportation in record numbers. For some it is a matter of convenience, while for others who must commute from the suburbs, it is one of necessity. While top-down directives for public transportation may fly in parts of the globe where no previous infrastructure existed and cars remain unaffordable, I can only imagine that it would be poorly received in countries which emphasize individual choice and the free market as pillars of society. But still, don’t be surprised if this line of thought becomes part of the discourse at some point in the near future.

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Obama Nominates Anthony Foxx As Next DOT Head http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/obama-nominates-anthony-foxx-as-next-dot-head/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/obama-nominates-anthony-foxx-as-next-dot-head/#comments Wed, 01 May 2013 12:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=486796

President Obama announced the nomination of Anthony Foxx, the current mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, as his choice to succeed Ray LaHood as the next head of the Department of Transportation.

While LaHood’s legacy will largely relate to distracted driving legislation and an increase in the CAFE standard, little is known about how Foxx will align himself and the DOT on auto related issues. So far, much of Foxx’s transportation related work involves infastructure, specifically mass transit projects for his home city.

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1 Million EV Goal Absent From State Of The Union http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/1-million-ev-goal-absent-from-state-of-the-union/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/1-million-ev-goal-absent-from-state-of-the-union/#comments Wed, 13 Feb 2013 16:30:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=477360

Those who watched the State of the Union address last night and have an interest in autos may have noticed a conspicuous absence; Barack Obama failed to mention his goal of putting 1 million EVs on the road by 2015.

Obama last mentioned the figure in 2011, stating

At the California Institute of Technology, they’re developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars. At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they’re using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities. With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

Since then, the figure has been absent from the address. In 2012 did see Obama promise to  ”…not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany…” Well, we all know what happened to A123 Systems.

 

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Did Government Meddling Cripple The Dodge Dart? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/government-obama-dodge-dart/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/government-obama-dodge-dart/#comments Fri, 25 Jan 2013 22:25:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=475299

As we come to yet another hiccup in the launch of the Dodge Dart, it’s worth taking a look backwards to examine how we got to this point; the elimination of a second shift at the Dundee, Michigan plant that builds the Dart’s 1.4L FIRE engine, as well as the firing or re-assignment of 58 workers.

As both Ronnie and Michael Karesh noted, the same 1.4T FIRE engine that’s so delightful in the Fiat 500 Abarth is weaksauce in the Dart. The 1.4T’s clunky dual-clutch auto doesn’t help matters either. If it weren’t for government mandated fuel economy targets imposed as a condition of the bailout, that engine – and possibly the Dart – wouldn’t even be here right now.

Just over a year ago, UAW members at the plant had just authorized a strike at the Dundee plant over a change in shift schedules – despite an apparent agreement not to strike, as another condition of the bailout. The FIRE engine, widely panned in the Dart, seems to exist solely to satisfy the requirement that Fiat build a 40 MPG car in America – a requirement that TTAC summarily exposed as bogus, since the agreement stated that the car must get 40 MPG “unadjusted”, or roughly 30 MPG combined in the “real world” fuel economy figures that everyone is familiar with.

But without the 40 MPG Dart, the diminutive FIRE engine and U.S. production of the FIRE engine, Fiat would not have received their 20 percent stake in Chrysler, along with the option to increase their share in 5 percent increments once these milestones (the third being Fiat recording $1.5 billion in revenue outside the NAFTA Zone).

Ronnie hit the nail on the head with his summation that the Dart, as Chrysler’s first product overseen by Marchionne, was at best the victim of a botched launch, and at worst a failure made of cobbled together Chrysler and Fiat parts. But the 1.4T seems to have been a victim of meddling by the current administration instructing car companies to build vehicles consumers don’t want – a charge often leveled at the Chevrolet Volt by its more vocal critics. In this case, it’s not a complex hybrid/electric pseudo-hatch, but an underpowered version of a nicely executed compact car that was hamstrung by political pressure – that may or may not have led to a botching of the car’s launch.

The initial batch of Darts that arrived on dealer lots used the 1.4T or 2.0L non-turbo engine and were largely equipped with stick shifts – popular among “Petrol Hipsters”, but poison for the other 95 percent of American car buyers. The mismatch in product mix has been blamed for the Dart’s slow start. Next up, Sergio Marchionne himself blamed the lack of a 9-speed automatic, telling the media that buyers found the 6-speed dual clutch gearbox to be an oddity. Now it looks like the issue may lie with the FIRE engine itself; too pokey and too small for American tastes, let alone for a 3200 lb car (for comparison, the Fiat 500 Abarth that uses the FIRE engine weighs 2500 lbs and provides fairly rapid acceleration). The irony is that only one model, the 1.4T equipped Dart Aero, actually gets 40 MPG or above. Since the government agreement specified that the 40 MPG car be “produced in commercial quantities”  without any concrete definition, it’s impossible to know how many 40 MPG Darts actually made their way into the hands of consumers. Interestingly enough, the Dart Aero is broken out as a separate model on the EPA’s fuel economy website

As a replacement for the FIRE and its capacity at the plant, Chrysler will use Dundee to build the 2.4L Tigershark 4-cylinder engines that will apparently be a much better fit for North American drivers, rather than the small turbo engine that’s more at home in A and B segment Fiat products. The 2.4L hasn’t been rated by the EPA for fuel economy yet – it likely won’t hit the 40 MPG mark, but its smoother, torquier nature is more akin to what American consumers are used to. But if it weren’t for politicians deciding that they knew better, and that filling some nebulous “green car” mandate was a holy task, this whole mess could have been avoided, and the Dart may have had a much better chance to succeeding in an already tough compact car segment.

 

 

 

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Former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca Endorses Mitt Romney http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/former-chrysler-ceo-lee-iacocca-endorses-mitt-romney/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/former-chrysler-ceo-lee-iacocca-endorses-mitt-romney/#comments Sat, 20 Oct 2012 15:48:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=464319

Retired Chrysler CEO and former Ford president Lee Iacocca has endorsed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Iacocca is a political independent with a record of endorsing both Republicans and Democrats for the United States’ highest elected office. In his endorsement statement, which was also published as an op-ed piece in the Detroit News, Iacocca stressed his and Romney’s experience in “turnarounds”, America’s need for leadership, and his opinion that the future of the country depends on the results of this particular presidential election.

It’s safe to assume that the Romney campaign will see Iacocca’s endorsement as helpful in both the retired Chrysler chief’s native Pennsylvania and in Romney’s native Michigan. Both of those states have been considered to be solid electoral votes for President Obama but some recent polls have been trending towards Romney, with reports of his campaign starting to allocate funds for campaigning in those states, indicating that they might still be in play. Iacocca is widely admired in Michigan and his opinions still carry weight in the automotive community. Chrysler has its headquarters in Auburn Hills as well as a number of engine and assembly plants elsewhere in Michigan. The automaker is one of that state’s biggest employers.

It’s probably also safe to assume that the endorsement of Iacocca, who shepherded Chrysler through its first bailout, backed by federal loan guarantees in the early 1980s, is intended to sway automotive related voters who are favorable to Obama because of the more recent bailout of Chrysler and GM. That has to be assumed because Iacocca never explicitly references the 2009 bankruptcies and restructuring in his statement. In a 2010 interview with the Detroit News, Iacocca is on record as supporting the Obama administration’s actions to save GM and Chrysler, though he expressed reservations about how the deal was structured.

Though they’re probably accurate, most of those assumptions can’t be confirmed. At 88, Mr. Iacocca is enjoying his retirement and he no longer does press interviews or speeches. He also won’t be doing any public appearances with Romney or on his behalf.

Some of Iacocca’s reservations about how the bailouts were structured might have been about his not insignificant ego. According to Iacocca, Pres. Obama’s task force on restructuring the domestic auto industry asked for his advice but ignored his recommendations.  In that 2010 interview Iacocca said that the task force had “called me for my advice [in the spring of 2009], but they didn’t follow it too well.” Iacocca has also been critical of the number of Chrysler and GM  dealers culled in the bankruptcy (“they went too far”) and of micromanagement of those automakers by that same task force. Iacocca told the DetNews that at the time he told task force co-chairman Larry Summers, who was President Obama’s economic adviser, “Keep your hands off of (the auto companies). You can’t run a business out of Washington, D.C.” Iacocca had a personal stake in the bankruptcies. To reference Robert Farago’s question of Bob Lutz’s over his personal finances, Iacocca lost 80% of his Chrysler pension in the restructuring.

It’s possible that there’s more to this endorsement than politics. It might be personal. The men do know each other. Iacocca was a rising star at Ford at the same time that Mitt’s father, George Romney, was running American Motors and Iacocca has expressed admiration for the senior Romney. The social world of Detroit auto execs living in Grosse Pointe, Bloomfield Hills and Grosse Isle has always been incestuous and nepotistic never been that large and Iacocca socialized with George and Lenore Romney and has known Mitt since he was a boy.

In his 2008 book, Where Have All The Leaders Gone?, Iacocca expressed praise for Romney’s competence in business and governance as well as his personal character while expressing concerns about the former Mass. governor’s embrace of more conservative social issues. It appears that Iacocca’s concerns for the economic future of the United States now outweigh those reservations.

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Never Mind The McLaren: Why The Dacia Sandero Is The Star Of The Paris Motor Show http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/never-mind-the-mclaren-why-the-dacia-sandero-is-the-star-of-the-paris-motor-show/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/never-mind-the-mclaren-why-the-dacia-sandero-is-the-star-of-the-paris-motor-show/#comments Thu, 27 Sep 2012 12:30:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=461764

The Paris Auto Show is about to kick off tomorrow, and some of the product set to debut has me cursing myself for not maxing out my Visa on a flight and a room at the lovely hotel that’s walking distance from the Porte de Versailles, where the pretty girl with crooked teeth sits patiently at the front desk. And how could I forget the wizened gran-mere hovering over the table at breakfast, replenishing your plate with cheeses and baked goods that one could never hope to find at Publix?

Alas, I am not part of the A-List club that gets driven from the Georges V to the Expo Hall in an S-Class, and so rather than sucking down a Gauloises or getting a glimpse of Carla Bruni (I was blessed with such a privilege in 2010) I’m stuck in North America, having to use my brain rather than just repeating back what my PR minders told me over a glass of Cotes-de-Rhone

The same people who are attending the show on the Sponsored Content plan will no doubt be running beautifully shot feature articles on the Jaguar F-Type, the McLaren whateveritscalled and the new Range Rover. I wish I was there to see them all, but I’d probably give them a once over at the show and then wait another 6 months for them to crop up in Forest Hill Village on a Sunday morning.

What I’m really interested in is the low end flotsam that we won’t ever get.Car makers can be put in one of three categories nowadays; low-cost, volume and premium. In Europe, volume car makers are getting pulverized by the godawful economic conditions on the continent. If you’ve read TTAC for longer than a week, you have seen at least one story about this. It’s arguably been the overarching narrative of 2012, and nobody is getting hit harder than European car makers. Peugeot Citroen is closing plants in France, Ford is hemorrhaging money, Opel is shrugging off the hand of the grim reaper.

Premium cars, buoyed by markets outside of Europe, are doing better, but even Mercedes-Benz is predicting falling profits and cutting costs to the tune of 1 billion euro in 2012. The shining star in Europe is the low-cost car, and to me, the Dacia Sandero is the most compelling car at the Paris Auto Show. Aside from its 15 minutes of fame on Top Gear, the Sandero’s story is so complex and politically loaded that even if the car was an irredeemable piece of garbage, it would still be fascinating.

Dacia was bought by Renault in 1999, and in 2004, the Logan was launched as a low-cost world car. Since then, roughly 1.8 million units have been sold, as buyers in emerging markets flocked to the Renault-engineered car that sold at Lada pricepoints. Later on, Dacia has launched the Lodgy minivan and Duster SUV, which have been critical and marketplace successes, with sales up 16 percent this year in an absolutely dreadful European market. In fact, Dacia has been so successful, that they’ve even been accused of cannibalizing sales of their big brother, Renault.

As if that weren’t pouring salt into the wounds of an ailing domestic car industry, Dacia products are now being built in the former colony of Morocco, where workers are paid 13 percent of what a French Renault worker makes.The Moroccan plant is said to be capable of exporting 85 percent of ts 400,000 unit annual capacity, and most of those will end up in Europe. In a country where immigrants from the Maghreb still struggle with their role in French society, this is, to put it mildly, a controversial issue.

Trade unionists and newspaper columnists have cried foul about the low wages and the outsourcing of jobs that have led to the erosion of the French middle class lifestyle. The outsourcing of low-cost vehcle production has led to the demise of good jobs – but the very people who hold them are unwilling or unable to buy a new mainstream car as it is. They want the low-cost Dacia, the one that could never be sold so cheap as long as they are built by workers making 1,800 euro a month and taking 5 weeks paid vacation. The whole situation is an interesting allegory for the decline of the state-subsidized “la belle vie” that has been enjoyed in Post-WWII France.

All that for one little hatchback that is slow, boring looking and will sell for under $10,000. Isn’t that more interesting than an 800 horsepower McLaren? I think so.

 

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GM Bumps Up Q3 Results Prior To Election Day http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/gm-bumps-up-q3-results-prior-to-election-day/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/gm-bumps-up-q3-results-prior-to-election-day/#comments Fri, 07 Sep 2012 15:24:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=459306

General Motors hasn’t announced their Q3 financial results prior to November in six years, but they intend to announce them on October 31st, 2012 – just prior to the U.S. general election on November 6th.

The timing, reported by MLive.com, is apparently coincidental, with GM spokesman Jim Cain telling the outlet that

 ”…scheduling is based on committee meetings, executives’ schedules and other internal factors.”

Chrysler and Ford have yet to announce the timing of their Q3 result announcements. Chrysler has traditionally released their numbers at the same time as parent company Fiat. The Italian conglomerate will release their results on October 30th.

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Consumers in Tampa and Charlotte to Miss Out on Courtesy Car Deals as GM Stops Comping Conventions http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/consumers-in-tampa-and-charlotte-to-miss-out-on-courtesy-car-deals-as-gm-stops-comping-conventions/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/consumers-in-tampa-and-charlotte-to-miss-out-on-courtesy-car-deals-as-gm-stops-comping-conventions/#comments Tue, 28 Aug 2012 14:21:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=458091  

Click here to view the embedded video.

Overlooked in the announcements by General Motors and Chrysler that their factories will not be hosting any presidential campaign events such as photo ops or speeches by either the Obama or Romney campaigns is the fact that GM, which for 30 years has supplied both major US political parties’ national conventions with hundreds of new vehicles used as courtesy cars, will not be doing so this year. Frankly though the Big 3 are rather notorious for the casual way in which they provide complimentary cars to high profile celebrities, and though I was familiar with the practice of providing courtesy cars for major sporting events, I had no idea that GM has been doing so in connection with the big political conventions.

With some events, providing courtesy cars seems like a smart marketing move, though with others the car companies don’t seem to getting much value for loaning out millions of dollars worth of vehicles. When Buick or Cadillac sponsors a golf tournament, supplying courtesy cars is part of the deal. For the many decades that Buick underwrote the Buick Open in Flint, after the golf tournament was over, those almost new courtesy cars would be distributed to dealers in the area and ads would run on regional tv and radio about getting great deals on those barely used cars. I presume the same is true for other events as well. I’m sure that after the 2011 Super Bowl in Dallas, when local dealers sold off the pickup trucks and SUVs provided for the big game, they made a point of stressing how those trucks were made in Texas, at GM’s Arlington factory.

When it works, it’s a win win win situation. The events need the cars to shuttle staff and journalists around. Car dealers need demos to sell to folks looking for a bargain and the car company is looking for publicity. That last point is where I see a problem and I think that’s why, in addition to avoiding some of the mud being slung by the politicians, GM is not supplying the conventions this year. There’s just not enough national publicity value derived compared to the cost of loaning the cars. I bet that until you read the previous paragraph or unless you live in the Dallas area, you had no idea GM supplied courtesy vehicles for last year’s Super Bowl. At least with golf tournaments, there’s usually some tie-in with advertising during the event and the manufacturer usually gets to display some cars out on the course, so they end up being on the tourney broadcasts. There’s no comparable exposure available at a political convention. Not supplying the conventions may be part of a reassessment of the way that GM works with courtesy and complimentary cars.

The entire issue of comped cars is problematic and seems to be more about car executives hanging around with jocks and celebrities than it is about promoting product. TTAC has addressed the topic of celebrities getting free cars before, first when GM gave a Cadillac to 2009 Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes just as they were getting bailed out by the U.S. government and about to enter bankruptcy, and later when they gave a Corvette in 2010 to then Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga as a consolation prize after an umpire’s bad call cost the Bengals‘ hurler a perfect game. You’d be surprised how many famous folks who could afford to pay for them get free cars to drive, and they are not just getting short term loans so the cars can get photographed as the celebs step out onto the red carpet. For example, I bet you didn’t know that celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck has been driving a free Cadillac Escalade for the better part of the past decade. To his credit, Puck plays the game and makes sure to mention the car in interviews and articles but as I said, I bet you didn’t know about it, and if you didn’t know about it, what’s the point of giving a celebrity a free car? Without the attendant publicity, it’s just a perq for someone who doesn’t really need it. Though, with the attendant publicity it becomes obvious that it’s a perq for someone who doesn’t really need it.

The best endorsements, of course, are unsolicited and uncompensated. The fact that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a paying member of iRacing.com (and does commercials for them for free) is a stronger endorsement than anything he could say about them while on their payroll.

Daniel Howes of the Detroit News points out, in an article about banning political events from car factories for the duration of the campaign, that being identified with either political party is problematic for an American car maker. You just might offend close to 50% of the country, which seems to currently have a polarized electorate. Also, by providing the free use of millions of dollars worth of new cars to either political party, GM runs the risk of appearing to be buying influence. The NFL and the PGA don’t pass legislation. Mostly, though, I think it was a simple ROI based business decision. The courtesy cars provide no real publicity benefit during the conventions, and whatever marketing is done with the courtesy vehicles after the conventions are over will likely only touch consumers in the Charlotte and Tampa areas, not the national market.

Perhaps the people at GM are getting tired of their company’s entanglement in politics. Howes says, “If it were up to CEO Dan Akerson, his management team and GM’s directors, they would move to end government ownership of GM tomorrow — if not sooner. The feds’ stake doesn’t help sell cars and trucks. Nor does it enable the company to easily eschew political entanglements or to close finally a controversial chapter in its history.” From my talks with GM executives, designers, engineers and PR folks, I’d say that sentiment extends well beyond the boardroom. They are unquestionably appreciative of the bailout but they chafe living under a microscope with every product, marketing and business decision second guessed by folks unhappy with the very notion of “Government Motors”.

Howes says that GM personnel are also not exactly thrilled with the fact that Treasury apparently has no exit strategy in place to divest the 26% or so of GM that it owns. That alone, in the opinion of some GM folks, suppresses the price of GM’s stock. Of course being the recipient of that bailout, the people in the RenCen are not going to bite the hand that feeds and go public with their resentments. No, they are more likely to leak that attitude to journalists like Howes, and then take a position that quietly but firmly makes it clear to both political parties that they are tired of being a political football. According to the DetNews, Republican national convention organizers and logistics managers are scrambling to get enough vehicles, renting 450 buses and contracting with car rental companies. In previous years GM provided about 400 courtesy cars and trucks to each convention.

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GM, Chrysler To Political Candidates: GTFO http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/gm-chrysler-to-political-candidates-gtfo/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/gm-chrysler-to-political-candidates-gtfo/#comments Mon, 27 Aug 2012 20:49:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=458020 Click here to view the embedded video.

Auto plant visits, long a staple of election-year vote-courting for politicians, are now banned at both GM and Chrysler plants until after the votes have been counted.

GM and Chrysler implemented the move in response to the highly politicized nature of the auto industry following the bailout. An article in the Detroit Free Press contains a summary that could have been lifted right from the TTAC comments section, complete with references to “Government Motors”, the Chevrolet Volt and the question of when the Treasury will dump GM’s stock.

The most encouraging quote comes from GM’s Bob Ferguson, VP for global public policy, who told the paper

“We would like to put all of our energy behind selling our cars and trucks…it’s an understatement to say we can’t wait for November to get here.”

Amen to that.

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California Congressman Alleges CAFE Benefits Bailout Recipients http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/california-congressman-alleges-cafe-benefits-bailout-recipients/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/california-congressman-alleges-cafe-benefits-bailout-recipients/#comments Fri, 10 Aug 2012 19:38:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=456316

Bloomberg is reporting that House Republicans, led by California Congressman Darrell Issa, are set to produce a report that heavily criticizes CAFE as a politicized move designed to curry favor with bailed out auto makers and environmental groups.

Issa called CAFE

“a raw political process designed to appease environmental extremists…The impact of this process will not be immediate but will be felt by manufacturers forced to make, dealers forced to sell, and consumers forced to purchase far different, more expensive and less safe vehicles,”

Singled out in particular by Issa were the influence exerted by California (which can write its own rules if it is unsatisfied with the federal government’s own rules) and environmental groups. The Detroit News reports that Toyota, along with other foreign automakers, were unhappy with the deal, and they perceived favoritism towards the home team.

Automotive News, quoting the paper, recounts how Toyota Motor Sales U.S. head  Jim Lentz told Ron Bloom, then the White House chief negotiator, how Toyota felt.

“Japan is angry. Feel like they have been screwed,” according to handwritten notes from Toyota, the News reported today. The paper said Toyota wanted credits for hybrid vehicles — similar to credits that were extended to natural gas, flex-fuel and electric vehicles — and wanted more flexibility to use car credits for meeting truck standards.”

Another sticking point for Toyota was the slippery definition of what exactly constitutes a truck. The Big Three had been using this as a way to shift vehicles, like the Chrysler PT Cruiser, into the “truck” column to help bring down their fuel economy averages on the truck side.

Toyota also argued that the definition of a full-sized pickup truck — a stronghold of Detroit automakers for years — had been written to exclude the Toyota Tundra. Lentz said the deal was an “old Detroit tactic. It may hurt me, but it hurts my competitors more,” Toyota’s notes said, the News reported. But the White House was eager for Toyota to support the deal. “It looks bad for me and bad for you if Toyota is not there,” Bloom told Lentz at one point during the process, the News reported.

 

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Romney Would Sell GM Stock, Look For CAFE Alternatives http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/romney-would-sell-gm-stock-look-for-cafe-alternatives/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/romney-would-sell-gm-stock-look-for-cafe-alternatives/#comments Wed, 06 Jun 2012 17:58:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=447662

The Detroit News interviewed presidential hopeful Mitt Romney on Tuesday, and the Republican candidate-to-be shared his thoughts on government ownership of GM stock and the future of CAFE.

Romney told the paper that he would like to see government-held GM stock sold as quickly as possible

“There is no reason for the government to continue to hold (its GM stake),” Romney, a Detroit native and son of an auto executive, said Friday…The president is delaying the sale of the shares to try and avoid the story that the taxpayer took another loss. I would get the company independent from government and run for the interests of the consumer and the enterprise and its workers — not for the political considerations of government officials.”

Also put on the table was the notion of revisiting the CAFE regulations and perhaps seeking ”a better way of encouraging fuel economy”. Romney suggested a market driven approach, with “…vehicles that people want…”rather than government mandates, as a means of spearheading fuel economy increases. Romney claimed that co-operation would be essential to such measures, and also said that electric vehicles are “…a technology that people aren’t interested in.”

Romney’s words will find praise with a certain element on TTAC, but lest we forget that increasing fuel economy also means less revenue for the gas tax…and who knows where that could lead.

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Sanctions Cause PSA To Suspend Iran Khodro Shipments http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/sanctions-cause-psa-to-suspend-iran-khodro-shipments/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/sanctions-cause-psa-to-suspend-iran-khodro-shipments/#comments Thu, 03 May 2012 12:50:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=442765

Sanctions imposed on Iran by the EU and the United States have compelled PSA to delay parts shipments to Iran Khodro until September at the earliest.

Iran Khodro needs parts to build cars like the 206 and the ancient (by modern standards) 405. The delays are expected to cost both parties about $10 million per month.

Speaking to Just-Auto, a PSA spokesperson said

“We have withheld shipments to Iran until July…It is for financing reasons because of the sanctions. I guess in May or June it will be reviewed. Most factories are closed in France in August, so if you start again it will be in September.”

Some have suggested that General Motors, which has entered into an alliance with PSA, has put pressure on the French firm to suspend or end its ties with the Iran Khodro, but GM steadfastly denies this.

Just-Auto also spoke to an Iran Khodro spokesman who was optimistic that the company could find replacement parts, and expressed hope that negotiations regarding Iran’s controversial nuclear program would go well, leading to a resumption of business as usual. PSA’s Iranian business interests are worth $1.57 billion, or 1.5 percent of PSA’s total revenue.

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Blind Spot: Electric Cars And “The Freedom Thing” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/blind-spot-electric-cars-and-the-freedom-thing/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/blind-spot-electric-cars-and-the-freedom-thing/#comments Tue, 28 Feb 2012 01:39:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=433104

Editor’s note: While our erstwhile Editor-in-Chief, Edward Niedermeyer, is on sabbatical, he will continue to weigh in on automotive issues in a (hopefully) weekly column entitled Blind Spot. This is the first installment.

Back in 2008, as the worlds of automobiles and politics headed towards a dramatic collision, the founder of this site and I had a series of conversations about political perspectives on automobiles. Though these conversations were wide-ranging, I kept coming back to the same conclusion: for all of the talk about guns as “tools of freedom,” it seemed to me that cars were even more worthy of the title. After all, most people use an automobile in the pursuit of freedom and mobility every day, whereas guns are (relatively) rarely used to secure individual rights.

But embracing the car’s role as a tool of freedom raises a number of troubling questions, most of them inherent to the very cause of liberty. Though cars make us more free as individuals, we must recognize that it comes at the cost of (among other things) dependence on gasoline, an “addiction” that many now seek freedom from. As new energy sources and mobility concepts become available, citizens will have to navigate a complex thicket of issues as they seek to maximize the freedom that personal mobility offers.

That private transportation fundamentally increases personal liberty is difficult to argue against. On the theoretical level, it’s not difficult to understand how private mobility frees individuals to choose where they live and work, empowering individual choice over collective planning. And for those who see humans as essentially freedom-seeking creatures, the headlong rush towards private car ownership in developing countries could be a sign of the car’s inherently liberating power.

But as is so often the case with expanding liberty, the democratization of the automobile has a flip side. Indeed, the very expansion of the global auto market puts pressure on our energy sources, creating something of a zero-sum global market for private transportation.

Even more troubling for proponents of the car as a tool of freedom, the expansion of the global car market in developing countries is being accompanied by a transition away from automobiles in developed countries. Beyond even the impact of rising gasoline prices, social, cultural and technological conditions are making automobiles less of a liberating force in developed nations. Particularly among young people, automobile ownership is increasingly seen as a burden rather than a freedom.

For some, the answer to this automotive apathy lies in new technology, most notably in electric cars (EVs, or electric vehicles). New technology, cleaner energy sources and a more high-tech image will, argue EV boosters, make cars more relevant and sustainable to new generations of developed world consumers. But can electric cars really serve as tools of personal freedom?

On the most superficial level, EVs offer considerably less immediate freedom than gas-powered cars. Once its battery is used, an EV must sit immobile for 6-12 hours before it can drive again, limiting (if nothing else) the perception that ones car could cross a major land mass efficiently should one need it to. This gut-level reaction is, among admitted fans of freedom, a major stumbling block to the acceptance of EVs.

Add to the EV’s fundamental limitations the fact that the market for them is being stimulated by government tax dollars, and i shouldn’t be surprising that EVs have become something of a punchline on the right. After all, a gut-level appreciation for continent-crossing levels of freedom and an appreciation for the free market tend to go hand-in-hand, and the EV fails on both counts.

But by making EVs out to be nothing more than a patronage plot based on Global Warming hysteria, the political right does a disservice to both the EV and itself (however true individual accusations may be). For a significant number of Americans, the EV holds the long-term promise of an almost unheard-of level of freedom from external energy sources: what could be more enticing to the lover of freedom than the idea of local private transportation powered by solar panels on your roof? And on a national level, the hidden costs to taxpayers of gasoline dependence aren’t often brought up by the deficit hawks (or hawks of any kind, for that matter), but they are very real.

In the real world, though, microgeneration and EVs themselves are too expensive to be available to all but the most wealthy freedom freaks. And frustratingly, the most convincing solution to the EV’s problems with range and cost, namely battery lease/swap infrastructure like Better Place’s, are hardly a libertarian dream come true. Only by centralizing grid management and paying for a battery swap infrastructure, a task necessitating government involvement, do EVs make sense on a large scale.

This leaves the EV in a frustrating impasse with the value of personal liberty. Though holding profound promise for self-sustainable private transport, the range-limited, heavily-subsidized reality is as bad for many lovers of liberty as its obvious cure, the “natural monopoly” of a centralized swap/lease entity.

And yet, if we look to the markets, we see it moving toward electrification. The number and variety of hybrids available today would astound American observers of the introduction of the Prius just over ten years ago. Those who believe in the market’s wisdom can not deny the steadily increasing electrification of the car market, nor ignore its implications. And as is ever the case when technology and markets shift, those seeking to maximize their personal freedoms will have to choose carefully from a new set of imperfect choices.

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UAW: Romney Trying To “Rewrite History” Over Bailout http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/uaw-romney-trying-to-rewrite-history-over-bailout/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/uaw-romney-trying-to-rewrite-history-over-bailout/#comments Sat, 18 Feb 2012 16:31:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=431474

Days after Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney penned an op-ed in the Detroit News over his thoughts on the bailout, UAW President Bob King is firing back.

In a statement released to the media, King said that

 ”He’s trying to rewrite history and attack President Obama and the UAW for successfully saving the auto industry. He is misleading voters about the president’s bold and decisive rescue of the auto industry and about sacrifices made by workers. But voters deserve the truth.”

Romney is hardly the only Republican candidate who has come out against the bailout; 2008 nominee John McCain spoke out publicly against it, and Rick Santorum, a candidate in this year’s race, has also come out against it, but placed the blame largely with President George W. Bush. Nevertheless, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder endorsed Romney this past Thursday.

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Canadian Condo Won’t Let Chevrolet Volt Owner Charge His Car http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/canadian-condo-wont-let-chevrolet-volt-owner-charge-his-car/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/canadian-condo-wont-let-chevrolet-volt-owner-charge-his-car/#comments Fri, 27 Jan 2012 16:49:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=428315

A Chevrolet Volt owner in Ottawa, Ontario has been blocked by his condominium board from charging his Chevrolet Volt – even though he has offered to reimburse the board for the $1 (approximately) in electricity it takes to charge the Volt at local rates.

Mike Nemat, who bought a Volt a couple months back, lives in a high-rise condominium building where tenants collectively share the cost of things like electricity bills. Nemat has an electrical outlet near his parking spot, originally intended for an engine block heater, that he’s been using to charge his Volt.

Under the condo’s rules, Nemat is allowed to use a block heater, which consumes almost as much electricity as a Volt. But if Nemat wants to use his outlet for charging purposes, the board says he must install a separate electrical meter, at a cost of $3,000. The board claims that they do not subsidize the fueling of other vehicles, and therefore shouldn’t be paying for electricity for the Volt – Nemat offered to reimburse the board for any electricity used, but the board still declined (though without a meter, a precise figure couldn’t be determined), and will disable that particular outlet.

One of Nemat’s neighbors had a pragmatic take on it, suggesting that someone using a toaster or leaving the lights on all night is just as much of a drain on electricity as Nemat’s Volt. Increasing numbers of Canadians in urban areas live in these buildings, and some are friendlier than others – one Toronto condo even hosts Tesla Toronto’s vehicles and allows them use of a 240V charging station. Nemat and his Volt are likely the tip of the iceberg with respect to this issue – as plug-in vehicles and higher density housing take root (and really, a downtown condo owner is the kind of person that a Nissan Leaf is perfectly suited for), there will be increased demand for charging stations.

Disclaimer: The above photo is not Nemat’s Volt. I tested a Volt for a week in December, and parked it at a public garage which has a 240V EV charging station. One day, a Durango took my spot, and so I parked it next to a standard 110V outlet and used the factory trickle charger. I came back to find the unit unplugged, thus ruining my 4-day streak of not using a single drop of gasoline. In typical Canadian fashion, the cord was neatly drapped across the side-mirror, the charge port door had been closed and the trickle charger unit placed off to the side and out of harm’s way. I can only assume it was done by a security guard who thought I was “stealing electricity” from the garage.

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Texas: Top State Senator Says Red Light Cameras About Money http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/texas-top-state-senator-says-red-light-cameras-about-money/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/texas-top-state-senator-says-red-light-cameras-about-money/#comments Tue, 17 Jan 2012 20:07:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=427043

The most senior Texas state lawmaker admitted last week that he voted to save red light camera programs even though he knew they had no effect on public safety.

State Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston), who was first elected to the legislature in 1973, appeared on KTRH radio’s morning news program to discuss how public opposition to red light cameras persuaded legislators to devote some of the camera profit to trauma centers.

“People went to Austin protesting it, and so John Carona — a senator from Dallas — didn’t want to eliminate them,” Whitmire explained. “He said, you know, it’s obviously a revenue source. Local communities try to sell it as public safety, cutting down on red light running. He and I and I think most people would realize it’s really a revenue source. John Carona in Austin said, I’m not going to eliminate but let the state have half of that revenue dedicated to trauma care which is badly underfunded.”

Though the money was promised to trauma care centers, over $4.1 million of this money has remained in the state’s general fund and not been distributed to the trauma centers.

“The budget writers in an effort to find resources and money to balance the budget never sent that,” Whitmire explained. “It’s wrong. It’s wrong.”

Whitmire played an essential role in 2005 in blocking House legislation that would have banned red light cameras as well as an amendment that would have forced municipalities to obtain voter approval before instituting a red light camera program. The Senate voted 18 to 13 to against the referendum requirement. Whitmire explained that the mayor of Houston, a fellow Democrat, had pressed him for that vote.

“Bill White came to Austin and he had two issues,” Whitmire said. “The next vote that came up was to try to repeal red light cameras. The vote was whether we’d take that away from the cities. And I don’t think Austin ought to be trying to run the cities on a day-to-day basis.”

Houston’s cameras were ultimately shut down, but only after a heated legal and political battle. A federal judge even intervened to overturn the results of a public vote on the matter.

“It is a bad deal and the people acted on it and repealed it,” Whitmire said. “The issue of red light cameras, I was always suspect about it. I never thought it was about public safety. The greatest number of red light citations are issued to people who don’t come to a complete stop on turning right or similar violations. It’s a civil ticket, that shows you how insincere they are about it.”

This article courtesy of thenewspaper.com

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Quote Of The Day: Who Wants To See Gas Under $2 Per Gallon? Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/quote-of-the-day-who-wants-to-see-gas-under-2-per-gallon-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/quote-of-the-day-who-wants-to-see-gas-under-2-per-gallon-edition/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2011 21:46:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=407711

Who’s ready for some politics? With the presidential election still over 14 months away, recent Iowa straw poll winner Michelle Bachmann is upping the campaign promise ante by telling a Greenville, SC crowd

The day that the president became president gasoline was $1.79 a gallon. Look at what it is today. Under President Bachmann, you will see gasoline come down below $2 a gallon again. That will happen.

Without even taking a side in the muck of presidential politics, it’s plain to see how ridiculous this statement is. As Politico helpfully notes:

Bachmann didn’t detail how she would cut the price of gasoline, which is tied to the global price of oil. [Emphasis added]

Personally, I think gas should probably be taxed to a point where Americans pay about what the rest of the world does, in order to pay for the externalities of oil consumption. Most auto execs agree, arguing that America’s artificially low gas prices play hell with product planning. But even (or is that especially) if you’re a hard-core anti-tax free-market fundamentalist, Bachmann’s statement should be treated with scorn. After all, markets, not presidents, should be setting oil prices. But what’s principle (or even good practice) when compared to the need for political pandering?

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The Politics Of Car: Has Mike Jackson Defined The Car Guy Consensus? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/the-politics-of-car-has-mike-jackson-defined-the-car-guy-consensus/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/the-politics-of-car-has-mike-jackson-defined-the-car-guy-consensus/#comments Thu, 02 Jun 2011 17:49:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=397171

AutoNation boss Mike Jackson has long been the front runner to inherit Bob Lutz’s mantle as the most opinionated guy in the car business, and recently he’s been moving to lock up the distinction. Jackson recently gave the world the concept of the gas price “freak-out point” as well as delivering memorable quips on “green car” demand (while calling for higher gas prices), and has been outspoken about the industry’s struggles with “push” production, oversupply, fleet dependence and more. And now he’s laid out what may very well be the basis for a solid “car guy consensus” for political progress on safety issues. Autoobserver reports:

The main points of Jackson’s outline to improve road safety: 1) Make text-messaging illegal – and since that’s unlikely to make much difference, install technology to block text messages in moving vehicles; 2) Raise the gasoline tax to fund safety-enhancing and congestion-reducing traffic-management technology, including intelligent road signals and total automation of toll collection; 3) Get serious about lane discipline by restricting trucks to right-hand lanes and passing only in the left lane.

Can I get an “Amen”? Politics are one of the most divisive issues in American life, and TTAC struggles with the inevitable polarization caused by political topics every day… so hats off to Jackson for solidifying a non-partisan agenda that all (or at least most) car guys can get behind.

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Corn Ethanol Advocates Trash Dems http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/10/corn-ethanol-advocates-trash-dems/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/10/corn-ethanol-advocates-trash-dems/#comments Sat, 16 Oct 2010 18:28:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=369069

At least one of the institutions financing ads damning Democratic candidates this election season wants to put ethanol in your gas tank. The American Future Fund was founded by one Bruce Rastetter, the CEO of Hawkeye Energy Holdings, one of the larger ethanol companies in the US, according to an article in the New York Times. The fund is financing ads aimed at Democrats in key positions to influence booze fuel… so is the problem their “liberal” policies, or the fact that they’re insufficiently supportive of the farm lobby’s beloved corn juice?

“Of the 14 “liberal” politicians singled out in a list it released last month, nearly every incumbent sits on a panel with a say over energy or agriculture policy,” according to the Grey Lady. “Five sit on the Agriculture Committee; four others are on related committees with say. One candidate was a staff member on a related panel.”

One of the first politicians the American Future Fund supported was former Minnesota Republican Senator Norm Coleman, who had been co-chairman of the Senate Biofuels Caucus. American Future also attacked the Indy Racing League, because of a deal the League made to power Indy cars with Brazilian ethanol, in sharp contrast to its proclaimed mission “to provide Americans with a conservative and free market viewpoint.” Rastetter also helped start a trade group, Growth Energy, that pushes for tariffs on foreign producers, according to the NYT.

The NYT quotes a spokesperson for the American Future Fund, who claimed that ethanol and agriculture policy were not the reasons behind its attack ads. “We’re targeting liberal spending policies,” the newspaper quotes her as saying. Sure. As long as they get their ethanol subsidies.

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