2009 Automobile News
First seatbelts, then inflatable airbags, and now inflatable seatbelts. Starting in 2010, Ford will be the first automaker to offer rear-seat inflatable seatbelts in a production vehicle. This safety feature hybridization, to cost less than $400, will debut as an option on the upcoming 2011 Ford Explorer. Under normal circumstances these seatbelts function like the traditional ones, although with more padding which Ford says make them more comfortable and likely to be worn. During a collision, however, the vehicle’s crash sensor system automatically inflates the seatbelt’s tubular airbag with cold compressed gas, causing the airbag to expand through the belt fabric and distribute the crash force energy across five times more of the passenger’s body than ordinary seatbelts do. Ford says that this will help children and elderly passengers, who are more likely to sit in the back seats and are particularly prone to head, chest and neck injuries. Ford plans to make the technology available on more models in the future.
As if driving a Mercedes-Benz wasn’t luxury enough, the German automaker is now teaming up with select hotels and resorts across the country to offer special benefits to Mercedes-Benz owners during their stay. The company’s Destinations program allows owners to enjoy exclusive room upgrades (when available); welcome gifts; on-site hospitality credits for restaurants and spas; and Mercedes-Benz vehicle test-drives, complimentary use and courtesy shuttles. Available automobiles at each property will range from a SL63 AMG performance roadster to the S-class sedan and new BlueTEC SUVs. To help travelers orient themselves, each car is equipped with an in-dash GPS navigation system. The program’s ten participating properties include Calistoga Ranch; Auberge du Soleil; Montage Beverly Hills; and Rancho Valencia—all in California—and Encantado, NM; The Inn at Palmetto Bluff, SC; Stowe Mountain Lodge, VT; St. Regis Aspen, CO; Winvian, CT; and Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, IL.
For motorists concerned about the impact of their vehicles on Mother Earth, BMW’s blue-and-white-checkered badge might well be solid green. For the fifth year in a row, BMW Group was named the most sustainable automaker in the world by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, a guide that analyzes approximately 2,500 companies worldwide for their environmental-friendliness and selects the best from each industry. The Germany-based car manufacturer is the only automaker to have been listed on this index every year since the report was first established in 1999. BMW Group’s Board of Management announced sustainability as one of the company’s core strategic principles in 2000. Along with their eco-friendly manufacturing processes, BMW has invested in developing fuel-saving innovations (such as their standard EfficientDynamics automotive technology) and high-mileage and alternative fuel vehicles, including the Hydrogen 7, ActiveHybrid 7 and ActiveHybrid X6.
Congress recently approved $2 billion in additional money for the popular “Cash for Clunkers” Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS), a federal scrappage program that offers credits—through participating dealers—to U.S. citizens trading in their used vehicles for new, more fuel-efficient models. The funding boost will replenish CARS, which used up its initial $1 billion allotment during the first week of operation. An estimated 250,000 new automobiles were sold since the incentive program began processing claims on July 24, 2009. CARS, running until Nov. 1 or when funding runs out, is designed to infuse more green into the automotive industry by helping jumpstart sales with an infusion of cash while encouraging the purchase of higher mileage cars and trucks.
Read more about the Cash for Clunkers program
Sergio Marchionne, CEO of both Chrysler and Italy-based Fiat, announced that Chrysler will sell four models of the iconic Fiat 500 subcompact in the United States in early 2011. This fuel-efficient and customizable European small car (close in size to the Mini Cooper, Toyota Yaris and smart fortwo brabus) will be offered under the Fiat brand, with its base four-seat hatchback eventually joined by convertible, wagon and sporty Abarth versions. Production will be at a Chrysler plant in either Mexico or in the states. According to Marchionne, the 500 is the only automobile that Fiat would sell in the U.S. The Italian car company, which stopped selling its namesake brand in the United States in 1983, owns a 20 percent stake in the recently bankrupt Chrysler and operates the beleaguered American automaker in exchange for sharing technology and vehicles. Fiat said that it sold 190,000 of the cinquecentos worldwide last year.
For the United Nations’ World Environment Day on June 5, 2009, Mitsubishi Motors revealed the production version of its new-generation i-MiEV, an all-electric four-passenger vehicle. Approximately 1,400 of these small rear-wheel-drive automobiles, priced at the equivalent of $47,000, will be available via a maintenance lease on the Japanese corporate/government fleet market next month. Sales to individual consumers will follow in April 2010. The i-MiEV is equipped with a 330-volt lithium-ion battery (composed of 88 series-connected cells) under the floor of the car, which helps contribute to its low center of gravity, enhancing stability and handling. Boasting a range of nearly 100 miles, this zero-emissions vehicle can be charged at home via a standard 100- or 200-volt domestic outlet (for fourteen or seven hours, respectively). Also available will be fast-charge stations, currently being established throughout Japan, which will recharge the vehicle to 80 percent in a half hour.
May 7, 2009
Ford recently announced that it will invest $550 million to convert its Michigan Truck Plant—the former production site of the gas-guzzling Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs—into a more flexible and modern small car manufacturing facility in order to produce the Ford Focus compact. The complex, renamed Michigan Assembly Plant, was once one of the world’s most profitable automobile plants during the SUV boom of the late 1990s, and will eventually support 3,200 jobs. Ford plans to produce its all-new Focus there in 2010, adding the electric Focus (a plug-in zero-emission vehicle with a lithium-ion battery pack) to the assembly line in 2011. The Focus is part of the Blue Oval’s initiative to deliver four new electric vehicles to the United States by 2012. Along with the Michigan facility, the company is also converting light truck plants in Mexico and Kentucky to build its upcoming array of fuel-efficient models.
April 7, 2009
Rolls-Royce recently released information about the powertrain on their new touring sedan codenamed RR4, a production model of their five-passenger 200EX concept car shown at the March 2009 Geneva Motor Show. Tom Purves, the British automaker’s CEO, announced the details at a press conference in New York, where the 200EX was on display as a part of a world tour to show the vehicle to prospective buyers. Set to launch in late 2009, the RR4 will feature a 6.6-liter, 500-horsepower turbocharged V12 engine and an eight-speed automatic ZF transmission. The luxury car company, which sold 1,212 vehicles worldwide in 2008 (a twenty percent increase from 2007), says the RR4’s new drivetrain will be more fuel-efficient than the Phantom series. The 200EX concept, featuring rear-hinged coach doors and measuring 212.6 inches long, will make appearances in Miami (May 19-20); Los Angeles (May 26-28); London (June 9-11); and Cannes, France (July 2-4).
March 6, 2009
Chevrolet’s brand-new 2010 Spark, a compact hatchback, made its world premiere at the 2009 Geneva Auto Show. The four-door production-ready vehicle derives from the Chevrolet Beat concept that was exhibited at the 2007 New York Auto Show. According to Chevrolet, the Beat was the most popular of a trio of the company’s mini-car concepts shown at international auto shows since 2007. The Chevy Spark, featuring a youthful and angular design reminiscent of a hyped-up go-kart, measures approximately 143.3 inches long, which is shorter than both the Honda Fit and the Toyota Yaris Liftback. Inside, the diminutive automobile has a dual cockpit layout and a motorcycle-inspired instrument cluster mounted on the steering column. The car will be offered with a five-speed manual transmission and the choice of a fuel-efficient 1.0 or 1.2-liter, 16-valve DOHC four-cylinder engine, capable of an estimated 47 mpg in combined fuel economy. Look for the Spark in Europe in early 2010, followed by other markets throughout the world, including the United States in 2011.
Volvo recently launched two simultaneous nationwide tours to give customers a preview of the upcoming XC60 and its standard City Safety feature, which automatically employs the crossover’s brakes if a driver fails to react to an imminent collision. According to the Swedish carmaker, City Safety is active at speeds 18 mph or less (the velocity at which most accidents occur), and is designed to help either avoid or reduce a low-speed frontal crash. Volvo’s multimedia-oriented exhibitions—dubbed the “From Sweden with Löv Tour”—will continue into March 2009, stopping in more than 85 cities across the western and southern parts of the U.S. Each stop will encompass kiosks, videos and timelines about the XC60, culminating in a first-hand demonstration of the XC60’s smart braking capabilities. The first 25 guests at each event will receive a special gift, and people who pre-order the XC60 will receive a lifetime Sirius satellite radio subscription and complimentary factory scheduled maintenance.
Citing safety concerns, a growing list of states are banning the use of hand-held phones while driving, with some states such as California even including a text messaging ban. Now, concerned parents who want to ensure that their teens are keeping their eyes on the road may soon be in luck with a wireless car key device that automatically limits a motorist’s cell phone while he or she is driving. This technology, invented by University of Utah engineers, is dubbed Key2SafeDriving and is expected to be available on the market in six months, possibly through cell phone providers. The system works through a device that encloses a car key and connects wirelessly to the key user’s cell phone. When the automobile’s engine is activated, the key device places the driver's cell phone in “driving mode,” preventing outgoing texts or calls, with the exception of calling 911 or pre-approved numbers. Incoming calls and text messages will be automatically answered with a message saying, “I am driving now. I will call you later when I arrive at the destination safely.” Once the car engine is turned off, the device returns the phone to its normal mode.