Self-Driving Car Forces U.S. to Study, Ensure Safety

First Up 10/24/12

October 24, 2012

Self-Driving Car Forces U.S. to Study, Ensure Safety
With Google Inc. now testing its self-driving car on California highways, automakers and U.S. regulators are anticipating what safety hurdles must be overcome to make vehicle autonomy real, reports Automotive News. Regulators see autonomous vehicles as a means to reduce U.S. traffic deaths, which have declined for six straight years while killing an estimated 32,310 people last year. They're working now with the designers and potential sellers of cars that can see more and drive smarter than a human to address how to deploy the technology quickly, how to make sure autonomous cars can interact with those controlled by people, and what to do when crashes inevitably happen. "Automated driving, and the components of it, really is the next evolutionary step for what we see as safety technology in the passenger fleet," National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland said. The U.S. Transportation Department in August started a field test of almost 3,000 so-called connected vehicles in Ann Arbor, Mich. It plans to use the information from the Ann Arbor test to determine next year for passenger vehicles and in 2014 for commercial vehicles what to do next with connected vehicles. For more on the future of driverless cars, click here.

Auto Bailout Debate Just Goes On and On
The Detroit News reports that the federal auto bailout sparked renewed interest Tuesday, one day after President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney had their fiercest clash yet on the $85 billion rescue plan. "Auto bailout" was the most searched phrase connected to Romney on Google during the debate Monday night as interest spiked after a heated exchange between the candidates. Four years after the move to save the U.S. auto industry, the bailout remains one of the biggest issues looming over the 2012 presidential election. Romney's New York Times column garnered 400,000 to 3.5 million page views Tuesday. The clash between the candidates during Monday night's debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., was the second over autos in the third of three debates and the most spirited, with Obama suggesting Romney's plan would have led to the liquidation of Detroit's Big Three automakers. Romney – who opposed giving a bailout to U.S. automakers – said his plan to require bankruptcy filings first and possible government financing while under court restructuring would have worked. Click here for coverage of how the 2009 auto bailout is playing a role in this year’s presidential race.

Dinky, Yes, But Don't Call Them Cheap
Architect Scott Kula used to ride a Vespa scooter to catch a train from Montclair, N.J., to his office in Manhattan. Now, he drives a Fiat 500 for the first leg of his commute. Under pressure to boost the average fuel economy of their fleets to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, big automakers are taking another run at enticing U.S. consumers to live small – or, as Mr. Kula did, to get a tiny car for commuting while keeping a larger vehicle for weekends. The number of cars under 160 inches long offered in the U.S. has grown to 13 models from nine since 2009, says, a car-shopping website. Sales of "small specialty" cars, including several new microcar models, are up 39 percent so far this year, well outpacing the overall market. According to The Wall Street Journal, the newer crop of microcars takes a different tack, partly following the strategy BMW pursued over the past decade to build its Mini brand of sub-subcompacts. Launched in 2001, the Mini showed that a dinky car with distinctive styling and big-car safety features could succeed in a market still hooked on hulking SUVs. Click here to read about today’s small cars.

Some Automakers Let Auto Leases End Early
With the holiday gift-giving season barely on the horizon, some motorists are already lining up to make exchanges – of their leased cars. According to USA Today, they're being lured by offers by some automakers to let them out of the existing leases a few months early if they lease a new car. Such deals are good business for lessees and automakers alike. Motorists get a new car sooner. And automakers cash in on customer loyalty while getting needed nearly new used cars to restock dealer inventories. Early-return deals often are conducted quietly by mail to lessees. For the third time this year, BMW is letting lessees of many of its 2010 models waive up to three payments if they lease or buy a new model before Oct. 31. BMW's goal in these offers, says Scot Hall, executive vice president of online car-lease exchange, is to drive sales volume to pass Mercedes-Benz and Lexus. About 20 percent of eligible lessees have taken the latest deal since it started in September, about twice the rate of previous offers, says Shaun Bugbee, a BMW Financial Services vice president. Read more about automakers who are letting leases end early here.

The Internal Combustion Engine is Far From Dead
Auto manufacturers and drivers alike have long yearned for a simple solution to fuel efficiency. For a while, it looked possible. In 2009 Fortune wrote that, thanks to advances such as electric cars, hybrids and diesel vehicles, "It seems certain that the traditional gasoline internal-combustion engine is on the wane." The truth is an affordable technology to upend the standard engine still has yet to materialize. Forecaster LMC-Automotive predicts that by 2020, more than 98 percent of vehicles will still incorporate an internal combustion engine of some kind. And some 72 percent of new car sales in 2020 will run on gasoline only, says LMC analyst Michael Omotoso, down just a few points from today's 84 percent. (Most of the rest are hybrids, diesel, or ethanol-powered.) According to CNN Money, absent a revolutionary breakthrough within the next few years, carmakers from Volkswagen to BMW are now finding new ways to work with what they have. That's becoming especially important with a looming hike in fuel economy standards in the U.S. to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Read more about the current state of the internal combustion engine here.

Nominate a Dealer for AIADA’s Lifetime Achievement Award
Every year, during our Annual Meeting and Luncheon, AIADA honors a highly respected member of the international nameplate auto industry with our David F. Mungenast Sr. Lifetime Achievement Award. The award was created to honor the legacy of Dave Mungenast and recognize some of the truly outstanding leaders in our industry who possess an unparalleled work ethic and a commitment to their families and communities. Recognizing members of our industry who reflect the values and commitment that Dave exemplified is the best way we have to honor his memory. If you know someone in the international auto industry like Dave, AIADA wants to know! Please take the time to read more about the award and nominate a distinguished member of our industry by clicking here. Nominations are due by October 31. The 2013 recipient of the David F. Mungenast Lifetime Achievement Award will be honored at AIADA’s 43rd Annual Meeting and Luncheon on February 11, 2013 in Orlando, Florida. If you’re not already registered, click here to do so.

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2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV Long Term Test [Edmunds Inside Line]
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M Cars: Faster, But Not So Furious [NY Times]