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November 25, 2014
Honda Admits Under-Reporting Serious U.S. Accidents Since 2003
American Honda failed to tell U.S. safety regulators about more than 1,700 claims of deaths or injuries linked to possible safety defects in its vehicles since 2003, when the U.S. law requiring the reports took effect, the automaker said yesterday. According to Automotive News, the 1,729 incidents involve a wide variety of possible safety defects, including eight incidents linked to defective Takata airbag inflators. The reporting errors were caused by a series of data entry and computer programming errors, plus an “overly narrow interpretation” of the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act (TREAD), Honda said. NHTSA is reviewing Honda’s report as part of an investigation into the company’s failure to report airbag related deaths and injuries in a timely manner, said Kevin Vincent, the agency’s chief counsel. There’s no timetable for an agency decision, he said in a statement. Honda said eight of the 1,729 cases involved Takata airbag inflator ruptures and that NHTSA knew of those incidents. Automakers face fines of $7,000 per violation per day for not abiding by the TREAD Act, which requires the companies to tell regulators about customer injuries, lawsuits, warranty claims, and complaints. For more on Honda’s accident under-reporting, click here.
Lexus Looks to Woo Younger Buyers with Performance Cars
Lexus hopes to reach an increasingly younger customer. Toyota Motor Corp.’s luxury brand launched its first vehicle—the LS 400—25 years ago with a focus on Baby Boomers. According to The Detroit News, now that those buyers are reaching retirement age, the brand is seeking a younger Gen X and Gen Y audience through edgier commercials and performance-focused vehicles. Lexus recently started airing commercials for its 306-horsepower IS 350 sports car featuring shirtless men and seductive women, and tabbed “Hunger Games” actor Wes Bentley to hawk its new RC Coupe. And next month, the brand will start selling a $35,000 NX — its first offering in the hip, hot compact utility segment — to appeal to singles and young couples in their 30s and 40s. “It’s definitely a risk that we’re taking as a brand, but if we don’t take risks like that, we won’t be able to bring Gen X, Gen Y, young customers into our brand,” said Jeff Bracken, group vice president and general manager, Lexus division. “We may lose a few of our traditional owners . . . but if we don’t, we’ll never be able to grow.” Read more about Lexus’ strategy to woo younger buyers by clicking here.
Automakers Aim to Drive Away Car Computer Hackers
Automakers are betting heavily that consumers will want not just the maps and music playlists of today but also Internet-enabled vehicles that stream movies and then turn dictation into email. The federal government wants to require cars to send each other electronic messages warning of dangers on the road. According to ABC News, in these and other connections, hackers see opportunity. There are no publicly known instances of a car being commandeered outside staged tests. In those tests, hackers prevail. One was the Defense Department-funded assault on a 2012 model American-made car, overseen by computer scientist Kathleen Fisher. Hackers demonstrated they could create the electronic equivalent of a skeleton key to unlock the car's networks. That may take months, Fisher said, but from there it would be "pretty easy to package up the smarts and make it available online, perhaps in a black-market type situation." The project's goal is to reconceive the most critical lines of computer code that control the car in a way that could make them invulnerable to some of the major known threats. The model code would be distributed to automakers, who could adapt it to their needs. For more on how automakers are combatting hackers, click here.
Hyundai, Kia to Sell Combined Record 8 Million Vehicles
According to Bloomberg, Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. said better-than-expected sales in Brazil, China, and India will help them sell a record 8 million vehicles this year, even as a stronger won erodes profitability. The companies’ global sales will beat their 2014 sales target of 7.86 million vehicles after selling 6.55 million units in the first 10 months, the umbrella Hyundai Motor Group said in an e-mailed statement this week. Demand for SUVs including the Tucson and Santa Fe has helped drive deliveries. The announcement comes as the automakers, both headed by Chairman Chung Mong Koo, are struggling with a stronger won that has placed South Korea’s exporters at a disadvantage to Japanese competitors, including Toyota Motor Corp., that are benefiting from the yen trading at a near seven-year low. “The market still does not look rosy,” Chung said in the statement. “Let’s overcome the unfavorable market situation and show our automobile industry’s competence.” Hyundai Motor shares were up 3.6 percent to 171,000 won as of 1:40 p.m. in Seoul. Kia slipped 0.5 percent while the benchmark Kospi advanced 0.6 percent.For more on Hyundai and Kia’s global sales success, click here.
Fuel Cell Cars Steal Spotlight
Automakers are beginning to nudge the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle out of the illusion factory that is Southern California and into the broader conversation about the future of clean transportation, according to Automotive News. At last week's Los Angeles Auto Show, battery electric vehicles and hybrids, which once dominated California clean-energy car talk, were far overshadowed by announcements of new fuel cell concepts and investments in hydrogen fueling infrastructure. The developments indicate that automakers see enough promise in fuel cell vehicles to take concrete steps toward creating a viable market for them. Honda, a longtime leader in fuel cell vehicle development, agreed to chip in $13.8 million to help build fueling stations in California. Toyota, which already is aiding that effort, will collaborate on a fueling network in the Northeast. Volkswagen indicated that once the infrastructure develops sufficiently, it's prepared to bring a range of hydrogen-powered vehicles to the market. And leading into the show, Toyota unveiled its first production fuel cell car, the Mirai, which will appear in showrooms next year. For more on how fuel cell vehicles are gaining traction, click here.
Around the Web
This is Infiniti's Racecar of the Future [TopGear]
The 10 Coolest Cars at the LA Auto Show [Wired]
McLaren Releases Second Teaser for New Sports Series [MotorAuthority]
Drivers Talk on Cell Phones Less, but Surf, Email More [USA Today]