• NHTSA faces criticism over regional recalls for exploding airbags

    October 24, 2014
    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration faces increasing criticism over its decision to allow some automakers to handle the Takata airbag recall on a regional basis.
    Propellant chemicals in the defective airbag inflators are believed to be vulnerable to humidity over time, causing the cartridges to explode in some cases. The metal shrapnel can then shred the airbag or cause serious injuries to occupants.

    A letter authored by Senators Richard Blumenthal and Edward J. Markey outlines the safety concerns, primarily focusing on the uncertainty that a certain vehicle hasn’t been exposed to too much moisture just because it was not sold or registered in a state known for high humidity.

    It is not uncommon for fleet vehicles to be registered in one state and then spend years in other states. U-Haul, for example, tends to register the vast majority of its vans and trucks in Arizona, regardless of their individual operation location. A significant number of college students and people with second homes also spend years of cumulative time with their vehicles in states listed among the recall regions.

    “NHTSA should immediately issue a nationwide safety recall on all the affected cars, regardless of where the car is registered,” they wrote in the letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, a quoted by The New York Times. “We have become increasingly troubled and alarmed by the confusing and conflicting advice being issued by NHTSA, and the glacial pace of the agency’s response to this public safety threat.”

    The agency initially warned the public of defective airbags in three million vehicles, then issued another statement that expanded the scope to nearly eight million vehicles. The second notice caused the recall-lookup website to crash as a flood of concerned owners attempted to determine if their vehicle was included.

    Toyota has advised owners that they can bring affected vehicles in to have the passenger airbag temporarily disabled until repair parts are available. The senators argue that loaner cars should be made available, and disabling the airbag is potentially illegal even if safer than risking shrapnel wounds in an accident.

    NHTSA deputy administrator David Friedman apologized for the website troubles and promised to “leave no stone unturned” in its investigation. He defended the regional handling, however, noting that cars are being recalled in states where there is a “demonstrated risk” of airbag inflator explosions.

  • BMW developing i8S with more aggressive styling, over 500 hp

    October 24, 2014
    BMW is reportedly working on an even more powerful adaptation of its i8 hybrid sports car.
    Engineers are said to be evaluating a twin-turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, providing approximately 320 horsepower, or a 3.0-liter straight-six that produces nearly 480 ponies, unnamed sources have told Automobile.

    The current model integrates a smaller 1.5-liter mill that delivers 231 horsepower to the front wheels, while a 131-horsepower electric motor spins the front wheels.

    The potential engine choices for the upcoming range-topper, code-named the M100 and likely marketed as the i8S, suggest it will deliver more than 500 ponies and 500 lb-ft of torque — potentially dropping the 0-62 mph sprint from 4.1 to 3.5 seconds.

    Former Ferrari technical director Roberto Fedeli is said to be overseeing development of the new model, which is expected to be visually differentiated by a more aggressive body style and additional use of carbon fiber. The sportier build is also said to omit rear seats in favor of additional cargo space.

    The company has not yet officially confirmed any details surrounding the i8S, though the latest report suggests it will arrive late in 2017 with a price tag above $175,000.

  • Audi recalls 102K A4 models over airbag software glitch

    October 24, 2014
    Audi is set to recall approximately 850,000 A4 models, identifying a problem with the airbag-control software.
    Unlike the ever-expanding recalls over Takata airbag inflators, Audi’s recall is focused on a glitch in the control-module programming that, in some cases, prevents the front airbags from properly deploying, according to a report in the German magazine Auto Motor und Sport.

    The campaign includes nearly 102,000 vehicles sold in the US market, each from the 2013-2015 model years, while approximately half the total is split between China and Germany. The same software is used in sedans, AllRoad models and the A4 wagons.

    Other automakers have been under pressure to reprogram the software algorithms that determine if an adult is in the front passenger seat, warranting airbag deployment in a crash, or if the front passenger is a small child. It is unclear if Audi’s glitch is related to the same issue or a different accident-recognition parameter.

    The glitch will be quickly resolved at service centers via a software update.

  • VW e-Golf gets 83-mile EPA range estimate for US market

    October 24, 2014
    Volkswagen has announced official EPA figures for its US-market e-Golf.
    The all-electric compact is officially capable of driving up to 83 miles, with gasoline equivalent ratings of 126 MPGe in the city and 105 MPGe on the highway.

    VW claims the MPGe ratings make the eGolf the most efficient car in its class for the 2015 model year.

    Buyers will likely be focused on the EPA range estimate, which beats the Nissan Leaf by 10 miles and the Ford Focus Electric by seven miles.

    Like its rivals, the e-Golf is not a performance-focused EV. Its AC motor provides 115 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque, good for a 0-62 mph sprint of around ten seconds and a top speed limited to 87 mph.

    Following the Ford Focus Electric’s $6,000 price cut, the e-Golf’s $36,265 price tag (including $820 freight) makes it considerably more expensive than the ~$30,000 competitors

  • Mercedes-Benz will build next-gen Sprinter in North America

    October 24, 2014
    Mercedes-Benz will build a portion of its next-generation Sprinter lineup in North America to increase competitiveness, the company has announced.
    While Mercedes-Benz remains committed to building the Sprinter in Germany, what the company called “rapid growth” of the large van segment in the North American market necessitates localized production of the next-generation model.

    According to a statement from Daimler, the United States alone is now the second-largest sales market for its Sprinter line behind Germany. Due to U.S. import tariffs (aka the “Chicken Tax”), Sprinters bound for this market must be built in Germany, partially disassembled for importation, and then reassembled at the company’s facility in Charleston, South Carolina. 23,000 Sprinters were sold in the United States in 2013, and with significant growth projected in this segment, the importation process will only grow more costly and time-consuming.

    “As the market leader, we must also take into account the future worldwide growth of the Sprinter’s segment. However, we can cover the growing demand for large vans in the North American market economically only if we produce the vehicles locally in the NAFTA region. That’s why we have decided to produce the next generation of the Sprinter in North America as well,” says Volker Mornhinweg, Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans.

    The location of the new assembly facility has not yet been chosen. Daimler says the site selection process will be completed “in the coming months.”