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Rental Car Act Named for Two Sisters Killed in Crash Passes Senate

House delays vote until after recess.

by on Jul.31, 2015

The Houck sisters were killed instantly when their vehicle spun out of control and hit a truck head-on.

With Washington lawmakers set to go home for their summer recess, family and friends of two sisters killed in a 2004 rental car crash received at least one bit of good news.

The Senate passed a 6-year highway bill on Thursday that includes the terms of the long-delayed Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act. The House won’t deal with the measure until lawmakers return to the capital in September. But if they also approve the measure it would ensure that rental car companies can no longer keep cars in operation that are subject to recall until the necessary fixes are made.

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The two California sisters were killed in a crash of a Chrysler PT Cruiser they’d gotten from Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Initially, the company attempted to blame 24-year-old Raechel, who was driving, going so far as to say she might have been “suicidal or on drugs.” But a jury later disagreed,

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Tesla Announces First Incentive Program – With a Social Spin

Some buyers also turning to used Tesla as affordable entry.

by on Jul.30, 2015

Tesla wants to find new ways to boost demand before the launch of the Model X SUV.

Incentives have become a way of life in the auto industry, buyers often expecting givebacks and discounts on even the most popular products.

That’s a lesson little Tesla Motors has apparently picked up on. But the California battery-carmaker is adding a unique social spin to its first-ever incentive package, with a program designed to reward both owners and buyers. Separately, a new study suggests that some potential customers are getting around the high cost of a Model S sedan by turning to use versions.

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In comparison to some incentive programs, Tesla might be accused of being downright stingy. It will offer $1,000 credit to a new buyer – but with a twist, you have to be referred by an existing owner who will also get a $1,000 spiff, apparently for a future purchase.

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Fiat Chrysler Latest to Beat Expectations With Q2 Earnings

Net income up despite hefty consent agreement charge.

by on Jul.30, 2015

FCA is in "execution mode," says Marchionne.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles may have begun the third quarter on a sour note, slammed with a record fine for safety lapses, but it ended the second-quarter in fine tune, handily exceeding Wall Street earnings forecasts.

The company, officially registered in the Netherlands, earned a profit of 333 million Euros, or $364 million, even after a chargeback of $88.5 million as a result of the consent order formally announced last weekend. A year ago, FCA earned 197 million Euros, or $215 million, for the period. On a per-share basis, the maker reported earnings of $0.21 between April-June 2015, analysts surveyed by MarketWatch predicting the figure would come in around 19 cents.

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As has been the case for several years, the recovering Chrysler side of the business helped prop up the balance sheet, primarily due to strong demand – and rising prices – in North America. But FCA also saw improvements in a European market just rebounding after a long and deep recession.

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Is Your Car Up for a Buyback?

Sorting through Fiat Chrysler’s massive safety settlement.

by on Jul.30, 2015

The buyback covers a wide range of Ram pickups, including this heavy-duty 4500 model.

As part of a settlement with NHTSA over mishandled recalls, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has agreed to not only pay a record fine but also to buy back a select group of recent truck models with suspension problems while offering discounts to owners who might want to trade in older Jeeps facing recall.

The complex consent order has created plenty of confusion, dealers and factory phone lines – not to mention news outlets – inundated with calls and e-mails from owners wondering if they qualify for one of the deals.

Keeping You Informed!

Here’s some help in figuring out if you qualify for one of these programs, and what to do even if you don’t.

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California Initiative Searches for Elusive Battery Breakthrough

Public-private effort aimed at “turbocharging the innovation process.”

by on Jul.30, 2015

The biggest problem with battery cars? The batteries -- shown here being assembled at a Nissan plant.

The biggest problem with today’s battery cars? The batteries, of course, which simply can’t deliver enough power in a compact, reasonably lightweight package.

A California-based initiative is aimed at “turbocharging the innovation process,” explained a senior official, looking for ways to boost power, drop costs and extend battery life. The project, dubbed CalCharge, has added six new partners, including major players like the Japanese auto giant Toyota and German mega-supplier Bosch.  In all, 18 automakers, parts suppliers and energy companies have joined the initiative – which has also teamed up with a number of national research labs.

Stay Charged Up!

“Connecting private companies with the talent at the labs means that innovators at both public and private organizations have a new opportunity to learn and share with one another,” said Horst Simon, deputy director at Berkeley Lab, one of the founding organizations of CalCharge.

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Ford Motor Co. Sets Records, Beats Earnings Forecasts

Few clouds on the immediate horizon.

by on Jul.28, 2015

Ford hopes to drive revenues even higher with the new Limited version of its F-150 pickup.

Just about any way you look at it, the second quarter was a good one for Ford Motor Co., the second-largest domestic automaker not only handily beating Wall Street analysts’ forecasts but delivering record numbers in North America and Asia/Pacific.

Even Europe came close to breaking even after years of heavy losses, noted Ford President and CEO Mark Fields. All told, the maker delivered net income of $1.9 billion per share, a 44% or $544 million year-over-year rise. On a per-share basis, Ford made 47 cents. That was up seven cents per share compared to the second-quarter of 2014 – and 10 cents more than the Wall Street consensus forecast.

By the Numbers!

“We delivered an outstanding second quarter, a great first half of 2015, and we are confident the second half of the year will be even stronger,” declared Fields in a prepared statement accompanying the earnings report. “The entire Ford team is focused on accelerating our One Ford plan, delivering product excellence and driving innovation in every part of our business.”

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Acura Chief Accavitti Unexpectedly Exits

New Acura boss is veteran designer Jon Ikeda.

by on Jul.28, 2015

Mike Accavitti with a prototype Acura TLX at its preview during the 2014 Detroit Auto Show.

With sales growing well ahead of the industry overall, everything seemed to be going right for Acura boss Mike Accavitti. But the industry veteran has unexpectedly exited the Japanese luxury brand, parent Honda Motor Co. offering no explanation for his departure.

Accavitti will be succeeded by Jon Ikeda, who had served as head of Honda’s U.S. R&D operations and who was trained as a designer before joining Honda in 1989.

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“Jon Ikeda brings tremendous knowledge and talent to Acura,” John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda, said in a statement. “From deep R&D experience with the brand, he has emerged as the ultimate advocate for Acura and has built a record of solid achievement and success.”

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Automakers Struggle to Keep Hackers Out of Increasingly Automated Vehicles

Chrysler recall not likely to end the problem.

by on Jul.27, 2015

A Wired journalist winds up in a ditch after hackers took control of this 2014 Jeep Cherokee.

Sometime next month, if all goes well, California battery carmaker Tesla Motors plans to ask a select group of owners to begin testing its latest vehicle operating system. Dubbed version 7.0, it will include a beta version of Tesla’s new Pilot system which will offer the ability to drive on the highway hands-free.

As with previous updates for the Model S sedan, Tesla will upload the software wirelessly, rather than requiring owners to visit its showrooms. It’s an approach many other automakers are expected to adopt in the coming years. But it also raises some serious concerns among industry observers who question whether such an approach might make it easy for hackers to shift their focus from computers to cars.

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The risk was highlighted this past week when a pair of professional hackers gained access to a 2014 Jeep Cherokee driven by a reporter working for Wired magazine. They turned on the Jeep’s windshield wipers, shut the engine down while it was being driven down the highway, took control of the steering wheel and then disabled its brakes, sending it into a ditch.

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Fiat Chrysler Hit with Record $105 Mil Fine Over Mishandled Recalls

Maker also will offer buybacks and trade-in discounts.

by on Jul.27, 2015

A fire involving a Jeep Grand Cherokee. The consent order calls for FCA to speed up the recall of over 1.5 million Jeeps.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has agreed to pay a record $105 million in fines due to a series of mishandled recalls, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced Sunday evening. The largest fine ever levied again an automaker, the consent order will also see FCA buy back more 500,000 vehicles due to suspension defects.

The settlement follows what has been described as an “unprecedented” hearing by federal regulators examining allegations that FCA failed to follow federal safety guidelines in 23 separate recalls. In an appearance in Detroit last Monday, NHTSA chief Mark Rosekind warned that the agency may yet examine how FCA handled other safety problems.

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“Today’s action holds Fiat Chrysler accountable for its past failures, pushes them to get unsafe vehicles repaired or off the roads and takes concrete steps to keep Americans safer going forward,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

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GM Launches New Active Safety Test Center

Crash-avoidance tech becoming better, cheaper, more common.

by on Jul.24, 2015

A Chevrolet Malibu with a pedestrian braking system stops short of hitting a "child" during a test.

As the big Chevrolet sedan races down the asphalt the driver seemingly misses the young boy who steps out on to the pavement. But his car doesn’t. An artificial vision system not only spots the pedestrian but slams on the brakes, stopping just a few feet before what might have been a deadly impact.

In fact, the demonstration run out at the General Motors Proving Grounds in Milford, Michigan used a pint-sized dummy rather than risking an actual child, but it provided a clear look at a new technology that the maker plans to begin offering in 2016 on several models, including the new Chevy Malibu.

The Last Word!

Front Pedestrian Braking is, in fact, one of 22 different crash-avoidance technologies GM says it will offer through its four North American brands next year. And It promises more will follow, some already under development at a 52-acre Active Safety Test Area carved out of the suburban Detroit engineering complex.

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