Thursday, January 28, 2010

Much ado about Toyota


(Accelerator pedal in a 2010 Lexus GX 460 - and no, it didn't stick.)

The past few days have been nothing but hell for Toyota, as the media all jumps on the bandwagon to make as big of a deal of this sticking throttle situation as possible. Guess the bloom is off the Haiti rose. Gotta have something to hype.

Don't get me wrong - it is a serious problem, and one that can lead to death or serious injury - but what is driving me nuts is the apparent lack of knowledge that is leading to this sensationalistic fear that every Toyota vehicle is just waiting to send you hurtling to your doom.

This is compounded by the recent floor-mat debacle, where certain floor-mats (Toyota USA's All-Weather accessory mats in particular) can jamb beneath the accelerator pedal and/or bunch up beneath the brake pedal, potentially causing unintended acceleration and loss of control.

That was brought to the public's attention by the tragic death of an off-duty CHP officer, his wife and daughter, and his brother-in law in a crash in California a couple of months ago. The vehicle in question was a 2009 Lexus ES 350, a dealer loaner fitted with the affected mats.

I'll admit to still not having all of the facts in this matter, but here's what I do know: there was sufficient time in this case for the car's occupants to place a 911 call.

While I understand that the mat was interfering with the brake pedal, I can't figure out why the driver didn't simply shift the car into Neutral.

Even if this car probably had push-button ignition (which I really don't care for) and thus didn't appear that it could be readily turned off (a lack of familiarity or confusion would come into play here), shifting to Neutral would have prevented any further acceleration, allowing the driver to apply the emergency brake if necessary, or at least slowing the rate at which everything was happening.

It's possible that it would have given him time to rub a guardrail or take other actions to slow down. As for the engine revving freely in Neutral - who cares? Besides, like every modern car, the ES 350 has a rev limiter, and frankly, if it's me or the engine, I'm picking me anyway.


Other automakers are having a field day with this latest pedal situation. GM is offering cash incentives to current Toyota owners to buy GM vehicles - basically "avoid the flaming Toyota death, buy a Chevy!". Good thing that blower motor resistors aren't gas pedal assemblies, or GM would be recalling one hell of a lot more cars and trucks than Toyota. People that live in glass houses...

Toyota will undoubtedly produce a fix, but it will be interesting to see what consequence this has in sales, long term. I'm betting not much, and those who want a Toyota today still have several models to choose from, including the Prius.

Can I interest anyone in a Nissan Sentra?

Shameless Self-promotion

You can read my Wheels article on the Chevy Camaro SS that I drove to Detroit for the 2010 North American International Auto Show here, and my choice of which vehicle at the show I (and my colleagues) would drive home in here.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bonehead Engineering - Not Just Cars

Because of changes to the laws in my home province, this past year I replaced my seemingly indestructible Samsung cell phone with a Bluetooth and hands-free capable Sanyo PRO-200 model (a Qualcomm product). I actually paid more to get this phone - which does not have a camera, doesn't play MP3's, and is not equipped with a touch screen or slide-out QWERTY keypad - because it is the "shirt and tie" twin to Sanyo's PRO-700 yellow and black rubberized "military grade" flip-phone. Nothing else available at the time seemed like it would hold up to my level of neglect and accidental abuse.

Unfortunately, it and I don't much get along, because my ancient Samsung was so much easier to use, had better voice-recognition, and had a better built-in speaker when used as - gasp! - an actual phone. I even liked the Samsung's admittedly lame mono-tone ring tones better.

I don't trust hotel wake-up calls, and I'm not a big fan of the digital clocks or TV-based alarms that are available in-room. In particular, the Sony "DreamCube" clocks used in many hotels may as well be an initiation test for Mensa, as they're next to impossible to figure out. I use my cell phone's alarm feature instead.

My Samsung was multi-voltage compatible, so even if I had to set the time initially (it wasn't European-network compatible), I could leave it plugged in, and it was 100% reliable as an alarm clock. It was also loud.

The new Sanyo? Good thing I checked, as my first trip to Germany would have killed it - it's not 220 volt friendly - but it had enough charge to function, and I did figure out how to set the time by subtracting the time zone difference from its internal (home-based) time. There probably is a way to set the time, but it didn't readily reveal itself.

No, what really ticked me off was my trip to the Detroit Auto Show. In the interest of courtesy, I set my phone to "vibrate" so as not to have it ring in the middle of some automaker's presentation. I wasn't concerned about the alarm, because as you can see from the attached picture, it clearly allows you to set a dedicated ring-tone and volume for that function.

Guess what? Despite what the alarm menu might have you believe, on "vibrate", even the alarm vibrates - no ringer. Thank goodness my wife phoned me that morning. About two minutes later, my cell phone quietly vibrated across the nightstand and fell on the floor. I nearly left it there. Stupid!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Shameless Self-promotion

My coverage of this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit for Wheels can be found here and here. (2011 Lincoln MKX and Hyundai Blue Will Concept pictured)

2010 Detroit Auto Show - Day Two

The light at the end of this tunnel is Winsdor, Ontario, Canada.

Day Two of the Detroit Auto Show was previously not the last day of the show. With less to say and fewer manufacturers saying it, this year there were only two days.

The final day is basically the wrap-up, with a few important presentations in the morning from the big players, and then press conferences from the secondary players, like the tire, electronics, and component producers that are really important only to those in production.

Day Two this year started typically, but also had presentations from the two Chinese manufacturers and a group of small, privately-owned electric-vehicle makers. BYD's promised the world - US availability of an electric crossover with previously unheard-of range and recharging capability. CT&T introduced an electric roadster and two other electric vehicles, while promising to revolutionize transportation, with costs of ownership that changed at least once during the span of their glitch-laden presentation.

While overall more optimistic than the few years before, it is clear that Detroit's glory days are in the past - both as a hub of the automotive world, and as an auto show - and it remains to be seen whether or not it will ever reclaim all or any of its former importance.

Despite the positive spin given to this year's North American Internaional Auto Show, "better" still doesn't mean "good". Let's see what happens in the next 12 months...

Monday, January 11, 2010

2010 Detroit Auto Show - Day One

As far as I'm concerned, the big news this year is the relative lack of actual news. Many of the reveals were either anticipated, leaked, or simply rehashes of vehicles that we've already seen in some form or another; even the massively cool Buick Regal GS Concept, which is simply a powerful turbocharged four-cylinder version of the existing (turbo V6) Opel Insignia OPC that it is heavily based upon.

Chrysler in particular had primarily content and trim changes to announce - the Chrysler-badged Lancia Delta "Concept" seen above is pretty much the single most substantial item, an Italian model apparently hoping to "reignite the American Dream". The other noteworthy vehicle on the Chrysler show floor is a battery-electric version of the will-it-be-a-Fiat-or-will-it-be-a-Chrysler 500. The company's display area did provide such unusual sights as a ceiling-mounted Ram pickup and a Grand Caravan parked next to a Maserati.

Unlike the past couple of years, there were no bag inspections, sniffer dogs, or twenty-question security officers to gain access to the display halls. Getting in to the Ford presentations in the attached Cobo Arena still required a process just short of body cavity searches.

The expected proliferation of hybrid and electric vehicle concepts continued unabated. I'm waiting for the industry to finally realize/recognize that hydrogen internal combustion is the best mid-term solution in terms of maturity and cost of the technology and its implementation, and the use of exotic and costly materials (like lithium for batteries and the rare earth magnets used in high-efficiency electric motors). In my mind, hybrids and electrics are an answer, not the answer.

Lots of otherwise vacant floor space in the Cobo Hall basement is being used for a further expansion of last year's indoor hybrid/electric test track. I wonder how green the eventual composting of most of the plants and (massively smelly) mulch that is used in the several thousand square feet of fancy landscaping really is.

The Chinese once again have a presence, though Geely is conspicuously absent. BYD seems the only serious Chinese attendee (with three vehicles on their stand today - two of which were identical F3 DM plug-in hybrid models, the third a concept all-electric E6 crossover). Tomorrow's press conference may flesh that lineup out a bit. It will be interesting to see if the eventual production vehicles that result come anywhere close to BYD's present range claims.

The C T & T (China) booth next door has plenty of vehicles, many of which are comical-looking versions of their two low-speed electric models, the C Zone (a fancy golf cart) and the E Zone (intended for places like gated communities or parks). A sports car and a concept amphibious 4 seater are to be shown tomorrow. In a throwback to times not so long past, C T & T also had three rather provocatively-attired representatives on stage with their vehicles - a policewoman for their E Zone patrol car, a postal worker (who I promise you looked like no postal worker I've ever encountered) for their E Zone delivery van, and a black PVC-clad dominatrix (for lack of a better description) whose role was decidedly less clear. Ironically, however un-PC, it's "mission accomplished" for C T & T - look at how much print they got here! I'm just waiting for some automaker to have the guts to put male models around one of their female-oriented models (like a V6 Mustang Convertible, for instance).

Speaking of Ford, it won both Car and Truck of the Year awards for the Fusion and Transit Connect respectively. I'd have expected the Chevy Equinox to take T.o.t.Y., even if I do really like the T.C.

Stay tuned for more North American International Auto Show to come...