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Archive for July, 2010

GM Insists Virtual Key Smartphone App Will Be Bank Vault Tight

OnStar will have six user security measures to thwart hackers.

by on Jul.29, 2010

Could smartphone apps give hackers control of your car?

With automakers creating new smartphone apps that will allow motorists to remotely unlock their vehicles and even start them up, security is becoming a serious concern in the era of the hacker.  But when General Motors launches its new apps that turn a smartphone into a virtual key to operate its vehicles, the maker claims the program will come with a level of security that would make a banker blush.

Jeff Ravaf, a software developer in engineering at OnStar, said the smartphone apps, which OnStar announced last week, will have six layers of security on the user side, plus additional measures built into the system.

The apps will allow owners of Chevrolet, GMC, Buick and Cadillacs to use their smartphones through OnStar to unlock or lock their cars, remote start them and check such vitals as fuel level and tire pressure. The apps will work anywhere the phone can access the network, not just within a few hundred feet of the car like a traditional keyfob.

The free apps will be available for iPhone and Android (Blackberry will not be supported, at least initially) later this year, but users must be OnStar subscribers to use them.

Once they have downloaded the app, users will log in with a user name and password that they obtain from the OnStar Web site using their OnStar pin.

Each device that the vehicle owner wants to use to access the vehicle will have to be registered. A verification will be sent to the e-mail on file with OnStar to activate the device. Multiple devices will be allowed to operate multiple cars.

OnStar developed a custom keypad screen so passwords cannot be captured by hackers, Ravaf said.

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By default, the system is set to off, so the user has to manually check a box on the OnStar Web site to activate the service. Lastly, the phone works with OnStar’s computers which sends the signals the car.

“The phone doesn’t interact directly with the car,” Ravaf said.


Toyota Delaying U.S. Prius Production Until 2016

Technology “not mature enough for local production.”

by on Jul.29, 2010

Toyota will delay until at least 2016 plans to produce the Prius hybrid in the U.S.

Toyota has reversed directions on its plan to produce the popular Prius hybrid here in the United States, and will now delay that move until at least 2016, according to a senior company official.

Despite growing demand for alternative propulsion – and increasing production by its North American-based competitors – Toyota’s production chief, Atsushi Nimmi, told reporters the technology for key hybrid components is “not mature enough” to take out of Japan.

Making the move to an American plant, he suggested, would have to wait until the next-generation Prius is ready, something now scheduled to happen until 2016.

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The decision comes in sharp contrast with previous Toyota pronouncements.

During the gasoline price spike of 2008, when fuel costs topped $4 and sales of the Prius and other hybrid-electric vehicles also set new records, Toyota said it would begin building the distinctive, high-mileage sedan at a new plant near Tupelo, Mississippi.


Two More Toyota Recalls: Avalon and Lexus LX 470

More than 400,000 vehicles have potentially defective steering.

by on Jul.29, 2010

Loss of steering is a serious safety issue.

The recalls just keep coming from Toyota Motor Corporation.

The company in Japan announced today that hundreds of thousands of Avalon and Lexus 470 models have steering problems.

While apparently unrelated, both defects can make steering wheel inputs from the driver worthless.

The larger safety recall is for about 373,000 2000-2004 model year Toyota Avalon sedans sold in the United States. It is possible that that the Avalon’s steering lock bar could break. If it does the steering wheel could jam while the Avalon is in motion. The problem mostly occurs when the vehicle is parked, the steering wheel is turned to be locked and the ignition key is removed, according to Toyota.

There have been six reported cases of this condition in the U.S. There are three unconfirmed minor accidents, and no injuries. About 27,000 Avalons will be recalled outside the U.S.

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Toyota’s U.S. Lexus luxury division in a separate action is recalling 39,000 2003-2007 model year LX 470 sport utility vehicles to address a steering shaft problem where a snap ring can let go, rendering driver inputs to the steering wheel useless.  About 80,000  LX 470s are affected globally.


California Regulators Just Say “No” to Chevrolet Volt HOV Access and a $5,000 Tax Credit

Senior GM exec sees no sales "impact." Volt to qualify in 2012?

by on Jul.28, 2010

The Chevrolet Volt is moving from prototype to production, but it won't have access to commuter lanes along the way.

Is it a show of favoritism or simply the strict interpretation of the rules?  Either way, buyers of the new Chevrolet Volt will not get the coveted sticker that gives them access to the California’s fast-moving commuter lanes, nor will they qualify for a potential $5,000 state-funded rebate.

But those who opt for another new battery car, the 2011 Nissan Leaf, will qualify for both, according to the California Air Resources Board.  Considering both vehicles will soon go to market with lease rates of $350 a month, it raises the possibility that CARB will, in effect, be lending support to Nissan at Chevy’s expense.

While a senior General Motors official is clearly disappointed, he stresses that some tweaks to the Volt emission system should allow it to qualify for the HOV – or High-Occupancy Vehicle – lane pass and tax break by 2012, a little more than a year after the first Volt rolls into dealer showrooms. (See Single Occupant Honda CNG and Fuel Cell Vehicles Granted California High Occupancy Vehicle Access)

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In the meantime, insists Volt’s program chief Tony Posawatz, “The car won’t have trouble selling,” especially during the first year, he tells, when availability of what is technically known as an extended-range electric vehicle, or E-REV, will be limited to just 10,000 vehicles.


“Moment of Truth” As Buick Targets Social Media

Automakers increasingly target social media as an inexpensive way to market new vehicles.

by on Jul.28, 2010

Will potential buyers trust the "unbiased" comments aggregated by Buick's Moment of Truth campaign?

Is Buick going from grandmas to geeks?

As recently as two years ago, Buicks were primarily marketing to the blue-haired set, folks most likely to associate the term delicious with food, not a social Web site bookmarking site.

Now the reborn General Motors brand has started an Internet marketing program called “Moment of Truth” where users can visit to read what GM claims are unbiased opinions about the new Regal sedan.

The site is an online aggregator that pulls content from a variety of sources and gives consumers the ability to share it on their social networks. It includes YouTube videos, Flickr photos, comments from Buick’s facebook page, Twitter updates, as well as automotive reviews and consumer blogs.


Porsche Board Approves Hybrid Electric Spyder

Geneva 918 concept to become plug-in battery powered reality.

by on Jul.28, 2010

The Germans who originally scoffed at Toyota's hybrids are now copying the technology.

The Supervisory Board of Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG, Stuttgart, today approved the development of the Porsche 918 Spyder.

The concept version of a Boxster based mid-engine sports car with plug-in hybrid technology made its debut at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show and at Auto China in Beijing earlier this year.

Porsche is claiming that the 918 Spyder will produce CO2 emissions of 70 g/km, corresponding to fuel consumption of 3.0 liter/100 km (94.1 mpg imp) in the New European Driving Cycle.

Porsche is also claiming the Spyder will have the performance of a high performance sports car, which is a return to its heritage even though Porsche now sells more trucks and sedans than sports cars.

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Defining “Porsche” has provoked quite a debate about the Southern German automaker, which made its name with small, fuel-efficient, extremely capable variants of Volkswagens, but has recently thrived as the maker of four-door sedans and sport utility vehicles.


DOT Pressures Law and Auto Makers over DD

Transportation Secretary LaHood calls a Second Distracted Driving Summit as Congress, industry ignore the deadly issue.

by on Jul.28, 2010

Particularly lethal is the widespread use of cell phones, now a global problem.

While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is prohibited by the U.S. Congress from promulgating regulations concerning distracted driving, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has been using his “bully pulpit” to oppose the well financed auto, electronics and cell phone lobbies whose devices are enabling almost 6,000 deaths each year and more than 500,000 injuries. (See Smart Phones Add to Distracted Driving Epidemic)

Congress is showing no interest, to put it politely, on telling voters to stop using cell phones during an election year when all incumbents face ousting from angry voters.

Auto companies have their own conflicts of financial interest in this area, as they compete with each other to add more electronic devices to equipment lists. (See BMW to Offer Incoming E-Mail with Voice Output and DC Showdown over Distracted Driving Lobbyists)

Therefore there is no surprise in this bureau that LaHood has just announced that a second National Distracted Driving Summit will be held on 21 September 2010 in Washington, DC. More than 100 million people each day are now engaging in dangerous distracted driving behavior.


Enterprise To Begin Renting Nissan Leaf

100 battery cars will be offered in eight cities.

by on Jul.28, 2010

You'll soon be able to Leaf an Enterprise Rent-a-Car lot driving Nissan's new battery car.

The first chance many potential customers will get to drive the new Nissan Leaf battery-electric vehicle could come at an Enterprise Rent-a-Car lot.

The company plans to begin offering 100 Leafs for rent, starting next January, shortly after the debut of the BEV, which is targeted to go to fleet markets first, then follow up with retail sales in late 2011.  Enterprise says it will start with eight markets, including Los Angeles, generally seen as the country’s most battery car-friendly city.

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The rental firm hasn’t yet set a price for a daily rental of the Leaf, though a spokeswoman hinted it will likely be higher than a similar-sized gasoline-powered vehicle.  But that applies to the compact Nissan sedan itself.


Chevy Volt Electric Vehicle Starts at $41,000, Gulp, about $8,000 More than the Nissan Leaf

Lease payments for 36 months are $350; $2,500 due at signing.

by on Jul.27, 2010

Volt has a claimed total driving range of 340 miles.

In what will be the largest market test for expensive electric vehicles in the U.S. since General Motor’s Impact or EV1 of more than a decade ago, Chevrolet announced today that the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price of the Volt starts at $41,000, including a freight charge of $720. The price is $33,500 if, big if, the buyer qualifies for a full federal income tax credit that ranges from $0 to $7,500.

This is roughly $8,000 more than the Nissan Leaf EV, which has a similar roll-out plan for the U.S. also starting late this year. The pricing is aggressive on GM’s part, and no doubt meant to recover something close the the Volt’s cost to produce, not including the  program cost which could easily run to $1 billion.

The four-seat Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle will also come with a standard, eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on its lithium-ion battery pack – the best in the business thus far. (See GM Flings Warranty Gauntlet on Volt EV)

Nissan has not yet released its warranty details, but it has released pricing. Including the maximum $7,500 federal tax credit for which the Leaf is also eligible, the consumer’s after-tax net cost of a Leaf could be as low as $25,280. The Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price is $32,780. Leaf leasing begins at $349 per month.

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Taxpayers are providing massive subsidies to help overcome the objections of potential buyers for what are now and for the foreseeable future high cost, limited range electric vehicles, including tax credits of up to $7,500 per vehicle to purchasers, as well as a variety of subsidized infrastructure changes. (See Taxpayers to Subsidize EVs and Charging Stations)


Daimler Boosts ’10 Profit Forecast to $7.6 Billion

Maker credits sales jump, projects more revenue growth.

by on Jul.27, 2010

Growing demand for Mercedes-Benz products has parent Daimler AG swimming in cash.

A 27% increase in sales during the second quarter has prompted Daimler AG to raise its estimate on full year profits to more than  $7.6 billion.

“Our strategy is paying off.  We have a very dynamic development of unit sales and revenue in all divisions. After what was already a very good first quarter, we achieved excellent results in the second quarter,” stated Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars.

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Mercedes-Benz Cars and Daimler Trucks, in particular, posted significant improvements in their operating profit, added Zetsche, who should feel some personal relief at the latest developments.  Only a year ago, despite the Daimler board’s decision to extend his contract, there were sharp questions being raised about the chairman’s personal long-term prospects.

“We anticipate significant revenue growth in 2010 and we are targeting earnings before interest and taxes from the ongoing business of Euro 6 billion.”