Auto Notes - December 2016
VW settlement. On Oct. 25, Federal Judge Charles Breyer approved one of the largest consumer settlements in U.S. history involving the Volkswagen TDI emissions scandal. The $14.7 billion settlement, which covers 2.0-L diesel-equipped Audi and VW vehicles, was reached about one year after Volkswagen AG admitted that it rigged some 11 million vehicles worldwide to avoid emissions standards. A settlement on 3.0-L diesel engine is yet to be reached.
Under the settlement, 475,000 Volkswagen owners in the U.S. can select the options of a buy-back or repairs (and compensation) if a suitable repair is available. Buy-backs will range from $12,475 to $44,176 based on mileage and other issues. If a repair is approved by the EPA, owners who select that option would receive compensation from $5,100 to $9,852 depending on vehicle book value.
The landmark settlement also provided $1.2 billion to Volkswagen/Audi dealers, $2.7 billion for environmental litigation, and $2 billion to create a clean-emission infrastructure. There would be additional penalties assessed against the automaker if the affected vehicles are not taken off the road or repaired by June 30, 2019.
Recalls abound. Recalls set records again in 2016 as automakers worldwide issued recalls on millions of vehicles for everything from software and wiring issues to faulty brake systems, even though those manufacturers are providing the most sophisticated and technologically advanced cars and trucks ever produced.
Recalls for the Takata airbag inflators continued to expand in 2016. As of Oct. 7, almost 11.4 million airbags had been repaired, but the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that nearly 70 million Takata airbag inflators are or will be under recall by 2019. As of late October, 33 automakers were part of the Takata recall in the North America.
Other recalls in the U.S. include both tech issues and mechanical problems from virtually every automaker. Recalls include rusty ball joints, door latch failures, leaky oil lines, faulty parking brakes, oversteer issues, driveshaft failure, autopilot errors, power steering failures, loose sunroof panels, and more.
Tech, tech. While the auto industry continues to be innovative with scores of technologically advanced systems, from leading-edge accident avoidance systems to progressive smartphone integration, 2016 may have been the year we thought more about the Jetsons and their aerocars than any other tech advancement.
The advent of automomous or driverless vehicles was much talked about this year. In August, Ford Motor Co. said it would be mass producing driverless cars for commercial and ride-hailing services by 2021. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, General Motors, and others have concept cars and research and development plans in place for autonomous vehicles. Tesla, an early leader in the field, announced Oct. 20 that all new models will have self-driving hardware, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk said regulators need to “catch-up” to his company’s advancements.
“The Uber autonomous vehicle experiment has taken things farther than anyone else at this point, with LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging system), and a very sophisticated system,” said Jeff Zurschmeide, a Portland-based automotive journalist and author of several automotive books. “They are on the ground in Pittsburgh and working.”
Zurschmeide said autonomous driving takes into account many tech advancements, including the use of GPS navigation, automatic braking, pedestrian detection, and adaptive speed control, among other systems. “And it’s clearly the coming technology that will affect us the most.”
High-rated Buick. For the first time in three decades, a domestic brand has received a top rating in Consumer Report’s Annual Brand Reliability Survey. Buick ranked third behind Lexus and Toyota. Seven of the top 10 in the survey were Asian brands. Audi and Kia rounded out the top 5, followed by Mazda, Hyundai, Infiniti, BMW, and Honda.
The near-luxury GM brand sold more than one million vehicles through the end of October with the Buick Encore leading the way (U.S. sales up 29.75 percent in September; up 8 percent in October when GM was down almost 2 percent overall). The largest market for Buick is in China where the brand has been a leading choice for years.
New Toyota HQ. A recent media event in Plano, Texas, provided a look at the new headquarters for Toyota Motor North America (TMNA). The new facility, due to open in mid-2017, features 12 acres of glass that equates to almost 50,000 2017 Toyota Tacoma truck windshields; drought tolerant landscaping with no fertilizers, chemicals, or artificial irrigation; and on-site solar panels that produce 7.75 megawatts of electricity (the remainder from Texas wind farms).
“Our new state-of-art North American headquarters is designed to stimulate ever better ways to serve our team members, customers, and community,” said Jim Lentz, TMNA CEO.