• Toyota recalls Scion FR-S to replace ignition switch

    February 9, 2016

    Toyota has issued a recall for approximately 26,000 FR-S coupes from the 2013-2016 model years.

    In some affected vehicles with automatic transmissions, the ignition key can be removed without the gear shift selector in the ‘Park’ position. The behavior is non-compliant with federal safety guidelines, posing a potential rollaway risk.

    “In the involved vehicles, connectors for the automatic transmission key interlock on some vehicles may not have been connected during pre-delivery service prior to sale,” the company said in a statement.

    It is unclear if the issue has been blamed for any rollaways, accidents or injuries. The announcement comes on the heels of an investigation into Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs that have allegedly been involved in hundreds of rollaways associated with dozens of injuries.

    Toyota service technicians will inspect each FR-S to determine if the ignition key interlock works properly.

  • Porsche’s first EV gets J1 codename as development progresses

    February 9, 2016

    Porsche has confirmed a few more details surrounding its first all-electric car, previewed in concept form as the Mission E.

    The confirmed production version is currently referred to by the monicker J1, according to Autocar. Engineers are said to have been tasked with building a new platform from the ground up, rather than adapting an existing chassis from Porsche or other brands under the Volkswagen Group umbrella.

    Like the Tesla Model S and many other EVs, the J1 will place batteries low in the chassis to optimize center of gravity, cabin utilization and weight distribution. If the production model matches the concept specs, drivers should expect more than 300 miles on a single charge.

    Borrowing electrification technology refined in Porsche’s 919 Le Mans racer, the J1 will likely reach 60 mph in just 3.5 seconds and quickly recover energy for repeated battery-draining launches in a short time span. The company suggests the Mission E could theoretically lap the Nurburgring circuit in under eight minutes.

    The automaker plans to spend more than $1.1 billion to produce the J1 at its home factory in Zuffenhausen. The investment is expected to soften the highly profitable brand’s financial growth in the coming years, after shipping more than 200,000 units last year.

    Despite the significant funding required to bring the J1 to market by 2020, chief executive Oliver Blume promises “many new products” are being kept in the pipeline, according to quotes published by Reuters.

    Live images by Ronan Glon.

  • Subaru previews Crosstrek Special Edition with red interior

    February 9, 2016

    Subaru has previewed the 2016 Crosstrek Special Edition, due for a formal debut later this week at the Chicago Auto Show.

    The hatchback features a red color scheme all around, starting with a Pure Red exterior hue and extending into the interior. Red stitching accents the shit lever, steering wheel and door handles, while a red inlay has been applied to the dash trim. Completing the look, accent lighting illuminates the front floor with a red glow.

    The latest Special Edition is otherwise based on the 2.0i Premium all-weather package featuring heated seats, a power moonroof and other upgrades. Its tech suite includes a 6.2-inch touchscreen, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot detection.

    No longer prepended by the ‘XV’ name, the Crosstrek is now Subaru’s third best selling model since its introduction in 2012. The special-edition is powered by a 2.0-liter boxer-four, delivering 148 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque via a CVT.

    Only 1,500 Special Edition examples will be produced for the latest model year, representing an increase over the 1,000-unit Sunrise Yellow package that arrived in showrooms last year. Some potential buyers might wait to see what the company has planned for Geneva, with the next-generation Crosstrek on the expected unveiling list.

  • NHTSA: ’117 alleged crashes’ blamed on FCA’s electronic shifter

    February 9, 2016

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has stepped up its investigation into complaints of trouble with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles electronic gear selector used in the newer Jeep Grand Cherokee and other models.

    The agency first opened an inquiry in August after receiving numerous reports of rollaways. In more than a dozen cases, drivers claimed the lever had been placed into ‘Park’ before a rollaway occurred.

    A deeper look at the government complaint database reveals 306 rollaway incidents in the 2014-2015 Grand Cherokee, resulting in 117 alleged crashes and 28 reported injuries. Several of the accidents are claimed to have resulted in hospitalization to address serious injuries, ranging from internal organ damage to broken ribs and a fractured kneecap.

    The vehicles are outfitted with a shift-by-wire system that allows the driver to change gears by pushing a T-shape lever that springs back to centered position, rather than remaining in each detent position like a traditional mechanically-operated system. Drivers are warned with a chime if their door is opened while not in Park, and the selected gear is indicated via illuminated letters on the dash and shifter. Adding one last layer of safety, the engine cannot be turned off when the transmission is not in Park.

    “This function does not protect drivers who intentionally leave the engine running or drivers who do not recognize that the engine is still running,” the agency wrote in its latest investigation update. “NHTSA testing … indicates that operation … is not intuitive and provides poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection.”

    The NHTSA has not yet claimed the system is physically defective or non-compliant with federal safety guidelines. Officials have nonetheless initiated an engineering analysis to assess the “safety-related consequences of the alleged defect.” The same shift lever has been used in the 2012-2014 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300.

    Following Toyota’s unintended-acceleration recalls, the NHTSA has declined to pursue other seemingly related recalls after determining that the later complaints were due to driver error rather than mechanical defect. The agency is now in a unique position to consider if a defect can be declared based on a combination of insufficiently-intuitive design and drivers’ bad habits.

  • EPA to restrict track mods for street cars?

    February 9, 2016

    The Environmental Protection Agency has reportedly moved to tighten restrictions on track modifications for street cars.

    Regulators buried the controversial suggestion in a larger proposal otherwise focused on curbing emissions from medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.

    “EPA is proposing … to clarify that the Clean Air Act does not allow any person to disable, remove, or render inoperative (i.e., tamper with) emission controls on a certified motor vehicle for purposes of competition,” the agency wrote in a 629-page document (PDF).

    The move has been met with fierce opposition from the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), which represents a wide range of stakeholders involved in the aftermarket parts and tuning businesses.

    “This proposed regulation represents overreaching by the agency, runs contrary to the law and defies decades of racing activity where EPA has acknowledged and allowed conversion of vehicles,” said SEMA chief Chris Kersting. “Congress did not intend the original Clean Air Act to extend to vehicles modified for racing and has re-enforced that intent on more than one occasion.”

    The organization claims the EPA wants to prohibit conversion of street-legal vehicles into race cars, and even ban the sale of certain emissions-related parts designed for such applications.

    Track-day enthusiasts already face restrictions on certain aftermarket parts that, in some cases, push a vehicle’s legal status from street car to a dedicated racer that must be trailered on public roads. The single sentence published in the proposal does not explicitly claim owners and companies will be barred from modifying street cars for competition.

    An alternative interpretation suggests the federal government will continue viewing certain modifications as non-compliant with emissions regulations, potentially forfeiting an EPA ‘certification’ for mixed use both on the street and track.

    It is unclear if the EPA’s vague statement obscures a wider move to place tighter restrictions on the aftermarket parts industry — as SEMA suggests — or if it is genuinely a clarification of existing laws. Additional details could emerge ahead of the final rulemaking filings in July.

    Image by Ronan Glon.