Auto News for Feb. 28 – Takata Settlement & Watch TV Live On the Road

High Front Volvo S90 Mussel Blue

 Just finishing up a week with a Volvo S90 T6 and I can tell you it was one that I would take from Maryland to the other ocean. More in the Saturday Road Test.

 On March 7 at the Geneva Auto Show Volvo will introduce the new XC60 model with “three advanced” driver assistance features. It will provide the driver with automatic steering assistance to avoid an accident when automatic braking alone would not do it. The other two are upgraded Lane Mitigation and Blind Spot Warning. The latter will steer the car back into its own lane and away from a vehicle in the blind spot.   

 A U.S. District court judge has approved a $1 billion dollar settlement in the Takata airbag case saying any larger payment and the company would declare bankruptcy holding up replacement of defective airbag inflators in cars still on the road. Takata will pay, once the company is sold, $850 million to auto companies to cover recall costs. Another $25 million will cover a criminal fine and $125 million goes to compensate those injured by the faulty airbags who have not already settled with Takata. The deal was reached in negotiations with the Justice department. USA Today said a special master will be approved to oversee the compensation fund. Experts believe that the deal will hasten the sale of the company.


 Ford announced this morning that a new rear seat entertainment system in the 2018 Expedition can stream live cable or satellite television. An available Wi-Fi hotspot supports as many as 10 devices at once – up to 50 feet from the vehicle – while an available dual-headrest rear seat entertainment system allows passengers to watch live TV via SlingPlayer on either of two video screens. The system represents the first time SlingPlayer – which connects to a user’s home Slingbox account – is offered in an automobile. Or, “Dear would you drive for a while? I want to climb in the back and watch the big game!”



Auto News for Feb. 27 – Would You Buy a Mercedes Pickup?


Mercedes-Benz Concept X-CLASS powerful adventurer – Exterieur, Lemonaxmetallic ; Mercedes-Benz Concept X-CLASS powerful adventurer – Exterior, Lemonax metallic;

 Mercedes is going to build a mid-size pickup but in its initial announcement said the X-Class would not be offered here in the U.S. But now, according to Automotive News, the company is studying whether there is a business case for offering the Nissan based truck here. One official was quoted as saying the three pointed star would likely have to build a new factory here if it decides to enter the market. That could be a deciding factor. The truck would be an upscale offering in a growing mid-sized market now occupied by the Toyota Tacoma, Chevrolet Colorado and its GMC twin, as well as the Honda Ridgeline. Ford promises a return of the Ranger in a year or two.

 Geico has some recommendations regarding the tires on your car or truck. It says many believe “all cars come with spare tires.” But one in three do not. It recommends you look at the label on the door, not the tire itself for proper inflation pressures. You should check tire pressure every 30 days and remember that some Pressure Monitoring Systems only signal when tires lose 25 percent of their air.  Tire rotation should be performed every 5,000 to 8,000 miles and never continue to drive if you experience a flat. You may think this is silly, but I have seen lots of people doing it, trying I guess, to make it to a service station.

 The Car of the Year in the UK is the Mercedes E-Class sedan, known as a Saloon in that country. It was selected by a panel of auto writers. I favor our definition of Saloon.

The Toyota plant in Alabama has now produced 5 million engines that power six Toyota models. If the engines were lined up side by side they would stretch from Huntsville to Los Angeles.





Saturday Road Test – Ford Focus 1-liter

If you are seeing this for the first time please tell your car buff friends about this regular Saturday Road Test feature, and my five week day capsule summaries of the day’s top auto news. How about a “like” on Facebook?                       


 Ford Focus SE

 One, Three, Turbo

By Ron Amadon

DAMASCUS, MD. – One liter, three cylinders, with a turbo borrowed from the Fiesta is what makes this “Ruby Red” Ford compact go.

 Think 123 horsepower at 6,000 rpm with 125 lb-ft of torque @ 3,500 rpm tied to a six speed automatic tranny. A six speed manual is also available.

 From a stop light there is a bit of a commotion when the stop/start gas saver does its thing not always smoothly.  Initially the little three feels peppier than one might expect.

 But things bog down when you need extra oomph (that’s a technical term) in the moments when you are entering a high speed highway. Then you remember that 0-60 in this compact is slow – 10 to 11 noisy seconds depending on who is keeping score.

 HOWEVER. Once you reach cruising speed the Focus is an enjoyable companion with a quiet cockpit, comfortable seats, a decent sound system, and simple controls that don’t require the owner’s manual to determine their function.


 And there is excellent value here. For a take home price of just $22,350, the middle of the range SE model, had a “Reverse Sensing System” that worked just fine except it is viewed on a center dash 4.2 inch screen that is one of the smallest on the market.

 Also on the list was an exterior protection package, cargo area mat, LED lighting, and 16” aluminum wheels.

 The SE was rated at 28 mpg city, 40 on the highway for a combined 32 mpg. I ended the test week at a respectable 30.1 mpg.

 But step up to the 2.0-liter four with 160 horsepower and the economy figures are 26/38/31, so selecting additional go power will not be a penalty at the pumps especially at today’s prices. Regular unleaded of course.


 On a day’s drive the manually adjustable seats were more comfortable when one might expect at this price range. But legroom was a forgotten commodity in the rear seats that are best reserved for small children. Those 60/40 seats fold down for improved cargo hauling.

 The big news inside is the new Sync 3 interface that replaces the old and scorned MyFord Touch system.

 Handling was better than expected on twisty country roads and Ford gets an A for combining that with excellent ride quality.

 On the horizon is a revamped Focus that may debut in 2018. Rumors have it that, in the grand old Detroit fashion, the new Focus will be larger and spy pictures would appear to back that up. Car and Driver has a spy shot of a high performance model, the RS500, with lots of scoops and air dams that promise a very lively performance figure or three.

 Certainly, the new one will have more leg room out back. 

 When this new model will appear is not clear as of this writing – whether it will be in 2018 or 2019 model years.

 While everyone will be waiting for official word from the Blue Oval, let me say the current model was a pleasant experience. I came away with the feeling that it was a pretty darn good set of wheels when one factors in the price. Yet I would opt for the 2-liter power plant.  








Auto News for Feb. 24 – A New Compass


All-new 2017 Jeep® Compass Trailhawk

Jeep announced its new Compass will carry a starting price of $22,090 with delivery and will be aimed at not only the U.S. market but others around the globe. There will be four trim models offered here from Sport to Trailhawk. Of course all will be ready to go off road, this is a Jeep after all. It will be powered by a 2.4-liter four rated at 180 horsepower with 175 lb-ft of torque. There will be a variety of transmissions offered from a six speed manual to a six speed automatic and a nine speed automatic depending on the model selected. Jeep is claiming a healthy 31 mpg highway for the four wheel drive model with the stick shift. Worry not Jeep fans, the seven slot grille carries over. Roll out really kicks in in April.

 February auto sales will fall 3 percent behind those of a year ago, according to a new forecast from Kelley Blue Book. Officials said consumer demand remained relatively flat despite increased incentives. But looking ahead, KBB believes that sales will be strong for the entire year. Subaru is heading toward a record month thanks to the Outback and Forester along with the redesigned Impreza, KBB said. Edmunds believes sales will be off one percent this month.

 Thirty-six percent of the online population across 17 countries see having the latest driver technology as very important in their new vehicle, according the research firm GfK. Consumers said they want parking assist, adaptive cruise control, keyless entry, with a slightly smaller percentage seeking audio or video streaming, and social network connectivity.

 In celebration of his return to racing at this Sunday’s Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. donned a uniform and took a different kind of ride at the track – co-piloting the Goodyear Blimp. Earnhardt Jr. missed 18 races last season while recovering from a concussion. Aboard with the NASCAR driver was a 30-year military veteran and one of Earnhardt’s biggest fans. Paul Siverson was honored for his work with an organization that provides services to those who served in the military.



Auto News (and lots of it) for Feb. 23

 A new J.D. Power study concludes that Lexus and Porsche lead the industry in vehicle dependability. The 2017 Vehicle Dependability Study takes a look at problems experienced during the past 12 months by original owners of 2014 model year vehicles. Toyota claimed third place in the latest study followed by Buick, and Mercedes-Benz.

 Hyundai is the most improved nameplate in the study, in sixth position and its best-ever ranking in the VDS.

 Other notable improvements came from Dodge, Ford, and   Land Rover.

 Increased technology related problems contributed to dependability worsening in the industry for a second consecutive year. Specifically, Bluetooth paring/connectivity and built-in voice recognition misinterpreting commands.

 Wall Street liked the fact that Tesla lost less money in its latest quarter than the markets were expecting. Its shares picked up ground after the announcement. Elon Musk said the company is on schedule to deliver its less expensive Model 3 electric in July, with production ramping up to 5,000 per week by year’s end.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.

 One of the auto industry’s most acclaimed leaders is stepping down. Carlos Ghosn will leave his job as CEO at Nissan and turn the reigns over to his co-chief executive Hiroto Saikawa. Ghosn will retain his role as Nissan’s Chairman and concentrate on integrating the recent acquisition of Mitsubishi into the Renault/Nissan alliance. Shareholders will vote on the changes at their June meeting. Ghosn, who rescued Nissan from bankruptcy, is pictured.

 Meanwhile, the head of PSA Group said Peugeot/Citroen is ready to create a “European car champion”, if it acquires Opel in a multi-billion dollar deal with GM. CEO Carlos Tavares said his firm would restructure Opel in much the same way that Peugeot/Citroen were turned into profit makers. Bloomberg reported that could include cutting costs, combining development of new models, and playing up the appeal of German engineering to boost sales. If it goes through, the deal would create Europe’s second largest automaker behind Volkswagen. Talks between GM and PSA are continuing.


 Land Rover will unveil the Velar at the New York Auto Show on March first. It is a new model with an old name that was used on prototypes in the Sixties. The Velar will fill a gap in the Land Rover lineup between the Evoque and the Range Rover Sport. It is said to use “unique sustainable materials” and is the “avant-garde” Range Rover.




Auto News for Feb. 22 – Good Gas News

 Gas prices are stable for the most part, according to AAA. The average price per gallon nationwide is $2.28 a gallon about where it was a week earlier. “Prices continue to remain flat due to lower driving demand and an oversupplied market as a result of increased U.S. production. As refinery maintenance season begins and driving demand increases, we could expect to see some of the gasoline supply in the U.S. soaked up,” AAA said.

 The auto club also said drivers paid an estimated $15.4 billion to repair rust on their vehicles over the past five years caused by de-icing methods used by various states. Rust can cause serious safety issues by impacting brake lines, exhaust systems, fuel tanks and electrical connections. What to do? If you live in one of the wintertime areas, AAA recommends you get your car washed regularly at a facility that will clean the undercarriage. Another idea, if you can, is to limit driving immediately before, during and after winter storms when salt and de-icing are at their highest concentrations.

 Fans of the old “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show remember their car, the “General Lee” taking some spectacular jumps while evading the sheriff. Now there are plans to re-create that jump on the streets of Detroit to promote an auto show at Cobo Hall. A replica of the boy’s ’69 Dodge Charger will drive off a 15-foot high ramp and soar 30 feet into the air, according to the Detroit Free Press. Daisy and Luke, Catherine Bach and Tom Wopat, are scheduled to appear at the Autorama show.

Auto News for Feb. 21 – Worst Traffic on Planet Earth is …?


 When a survey of traffic conditions on 5 continents, 38 countries and 1,064 cities was complete, INRIX concluded that Los Angeles has the most congested highways of any city on Earth. Drivers spent 104 hours in congestion last year in L.A. It was followed by Moscow, New York, San Francisco and Bogota. The U.S. accounted for 11 of the top 25 cities worldwide with the worst traffic congestion. NYC’s Cross Bronx Expressway, perhaps it needs a new name, was the worst corridor with the average driver wasting 86 hours per year. INRIX is a transportation analytics and connected car services firm.

 For the first time, the INRIX Traffic Scorecard also includes the direct and indirect costs of congestion to all U.S. drivers, which amounted to nearly $300 billion in 2016, an average of $1,400 per driver. And in case you were wondering, Phoenix and Detroit tie for the lowest congestion.

 A stable U.S. economy, continued urbanization of major cities, and factors such as employment growth and low gas prices all contributed to increased traffic in 2016.  

 Looking ahead, things may not improve. The demand for driving is expected to continue to rise, while the supply of roadway will remain flat, INRIX said.

 Rounding out the top ten cities with the worst congestion in this country were Atlanta, Miami, Washington, D.C., Dallas, Boston, Chicago and Seattle.

 We are not the only country in love with pickups. Automotive News Europe reports that pickup sales in the U.K rose 18 percent in 2016, to hit a record of nearly a half million. Sales of the Ford Ranger topped the charts.

 We are now used to cars that understand what we say. Experts predict that in future they may also know how we feel – sometimes without us having to say a word.

 Nearly 90 percent of all new cars are expected to offer voice recognition capability by 2022. The next step for the cars of tomorrow could be to pick up on tiny changes in our facial expression as well as modulations and inflections in our speaking voice, easing the driving experience for consumers.

 Advanced systems – equipped with sophisticated microphones and in-car cameras – could learn which songs we like to hear when we are stressed and those occasions we prefer to simply enjoy silence. Interior lighting could also complement our mood.

 “We’re well on the road to developing the empathetic car which might tell you a joke to cheer you up, offer advice when you need it, remind you of birthdays and keep you alert on a long drive,” said Fatima Vital, senior director, Marketing Automotive, Nuance Communications, which helped Ford develop voice recognition of the SYNC in-car connectivity system.

 Good idea, bad idea? What do you think?