Being for the benefit of Mr Clueless

It occurs to me that if you actually need this feature, you might be too stupid to be allowed on the road:

General Motors is introducing an industry-first rear seat reminder that warns drivers that they may have left someone behind.

The feature is standard on the 2017 GMC Acadia SUV.

The system monitors the rear doors. If either door is opened and closed within 10 minutes of the vehicle starting, or if they’re opened while it’s running, the Acadia will sound a chime when it’s turned off. It will also display a message reminding the driver to check the rear seats.

This is the situation the system is supposed to alleviate:

Janette Fennell, president of the advocacy group Kids and Cars, praised the system and said she hopes others adopt it. Fennell says at least 12 children have died so far this year after they were left in hot cars.

And it’s only mid-June.

Still, this seems inarguable to me:

I mean, this goes beyond “distracted.” Way beyond.

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It’s scam-tastic!

There are times when I think the criminally sneaky aren’t even trying anymore, and this is one of them:

When Robert Kleven switched on the news for his drive to work two weeks ago, he had no idea he was about to sink a high-profile lawsuit against General Motors Co. and embarrass one of the best-known plaintiffs’ lawyers in the U.S.

The news anchor described a long-awaited trial starting in federal court in Manhattan that day, the first over a deadly defect in millions of GM ignition switches. The plaintiff was a 49-year-old postman named Robert Scheuer. Kleven, a real estate agent in Tulsa, Oklahoma, knew that name. Two years earlier, he said in an interview, Scheuer had pulled a fast one on him.

Scheuer had altered a government check stub to make it look like he had hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank, Kleven said. On the strength of that stub, Kleven had let Scheuer and his wife, Lisa, move in to a new house in suburban Tulsa before they had paid for it.

Said Kleven: “I didn’t want them getting away with another scam.” Let’s look at that check stub:

Check stub allegedy faked up by Robert Scheuer

Of those six digits before the decimal place, only the last three were legit. You’d think this would have been obvious after a cursory inspection.

Scheuer’s attorney, Robert Hilliard, was apparently readying a strategy to portray Scheuer and his wife as the All-American Family whose lives had been ruined when their Saturn Ion went berserk and crashed into a tree. Unanswered: the question of why someone with 400k to toss around would be driving a Saturn Ion, fercrissake.

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Maloodicrous speed

GM’s British outpost is importing an Australian ute that looks for all the world like the 2016 El Camino Chevrolet would never, ever build:

Vauxhall Maloo LSA

The press release announcing it reads this way:

Vauxhall only sells one pick up vehicle these days, and while our rivals will wow you with improvements in emissions and fuel economy in a CV’s new model year, our offering — the new Maloo LSA — is more likely to impress with the arrival of its all-new, supercharged 6.2-litre, 536PS V8 engine.

So while it’s possibly not a contender for next year’s MPG Marathon, the Vauxhall Maloo LSA will haul … well, up to 540kgs from standstill to sixty in an unfeasibly short space of time, and do so with the utmost composure, despite the fact that it’s classed as a commercial vehicle (business users can even claim the VAT back from its very reasonable £54,500 on-the-road price).

For 2016, the new LSA engine brings maximum power up from 431PS for the outgoing LS3 V8 to 536PS, and an increase in torque from 570Nm to 671Nm. First seen in the current VXR8 GTS launched last year, the LSA is essentially the same unit fitted to the Camaro ZL1, albeit in a slightly re-tuned form. An Eaton 4-lobe supercharger, stand-alone water-to-air charge-air cooling system and high-flow exhaust system with bi-modal exhaust function turn the Maloo into the fastest production “ute” manufactured in Australia, and the fastest CV available in the UK.

Translations and conversions: CV = “commercial vehicle”; 431PS = 425 hp; 536PS = 528 hp; 570Nm = 420 ft-lb; 671Nm = 495 ft-lb; 540kg = 1190 lb; £54,500 = $81,150.

I am trying my very best to keep my index finger away from the “WANT” button.

(Via Autoblog.)

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At least HAL has a job

Assuming, of course, that General Motors can build this particular structure:

General Motors this month filed a patent application for a navigation system that can gauge how effective it is in frustrating guiding drivers based on their eye movements and how well those drivers follow directions.

The patent application filed Dec. 3 details a navigation system that watches “visual focus, the driver vocalizations and the driver emotions, along with vehicle system parameters from a data bus … to evaluate driver satisfaction with navigation guidance and determine driver behavior.”

Ideally, this should improve the performance of the nav system. But what’s more likely to happen is this:

The patent application also details a location-based “promotional offers for businesses near a destination or route of the driver,” to offer you a cookie at a nearby Arby’s to forget that it ever got you lost in the first place.

You do this to me, OnStar, and you’ll get more than eye movements, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

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Exterior matters

“The real belle of the automotive ball,” says a TTAC commenter, “is Vicki Vlachakis.”

Well, you don’t have to prod me twice:

Vicki Vlachakis on top of a tool chest

Vlachakis grew up in Pasadena, California, and studied at the Art Center College of Design. Hired by Mercedes-Benz, she relocated to Germany, but returned to take an offer by General Motors, eventually becoming the manager of GM’s west-coast Advanced Design Studio. Working from Franz von Holzhausen’s original concept, she developed the interior for the Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky twin roadsters.

Vicki Vlachakis in a Pontiac Solstice

After taking her leave of the General, she set up a handbag operation called Nooni, and then disappeared entirely. I’d love to see where she turns up next.

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Maybe they’ll give him a pen

Fiat Chrysler chair Sergio Marchionne is keen to find a merger partner, even if it’s General Motors:

The search, which is coming up blank thus far, is the latest in the CEO’s attempt to find a happy ending for his increasingly desperate romantic tragicomedy film, fearing excess production and duplicate costs in engineering, R&D et al threaten future profitability of the overall industry.

For now, though, FCA’s low profit margins do not make for a good partner with stronger players, while Marchionne’s dealings with GM leave much to be desired. In 2005, he convinced the Detroit automaker to pay $2 billion to not buy Fiat — in hospice care by then — a move which also dissolved a five-year-old partnership to produce engines and transmissions together.

If it’s worth $2 billion not to buy Fiat, what’s it worth not to buy Fiat and Chrysler as a unit?

More recently, Marchionne attempted to woo GM back with an email to CEO Mary Barra suggesting as much. The automaker is transitioning its lineup to global architectures and can build said lineup on a broader scale than FCA. GM is also undergoing an internal consolidation to further boost profits, a plan Barra and others in management won’t allow to be derailed by outside distractions like Marchionne holding up a boombox in front of the RenCen playing Peter Gabriel, hoping GM will say anything but no.

Sooner or later the accountants are going to come for Sergio and ask why he stayed so long with an operation that is clearly not a growth enterprise.

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Very shiny indeed

The General Motors FastLane blog has a feature this month on the first batch of female auto designers in Detroit, hired by GM Chief of Design Harley Earl. In 1958, Earl put together something called “The Spring Fashion Festival of Women Designed Cars,” which featured some of the ideas these women had, which may or may not have been scheduled for production:

The female designers from the Chevrolet, Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Buick staffs modified two vehicles from each brand to demonstrate the female point of view. Vehicles displayed included six convertibles, a station wagon and three hardtops.

Not a sedan in the bunch. Then again, who remembers sedans from this era?

Along with stunningly detailed interiors and custom hardware, the designers proposed ideas that would lead to improved safety, including retractable seat belts and open door warning lights. The women also focused heavily on storage in the vehicles, and included a variety of compartments for umbrellas, maps, cameras and even picnic supplies.

In 1958, only one automaker had standard seat belts: Saab. And they were lap belts only; the three-point belt we see today was installed in every ’59 Volvo. GM and the rest of Detroit caught on eventually.

Just on the basis of sheer frippery, this might be my favorite of the bunch, designed by, and photographed with, Marjory Ford Pohlman:

1958 Buick Special Tampico

… the Buick Special Tampico convertible with an alabaster exterior and accents of flaming orange. The compartment between the bucket seats featured space for binoculars and a camera.

Obviously anticipating my needs half a century down the road. What’s more, no one does citrus-y interiors anymore, and besides, this is a ’58 Buick, which weighed something like 4000 lb, and about 400 lb of that was chrome.

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Continuing uncoverage

General Motors is cutting back on some new-car warranties:

Instead of GM’s five-year or 100,000-mile powertrain coverage on Chevrolet and GMC vehicles, the company will now offer either five years or 60,000 [miles] starting with 2016 models, reports the Wall Street Journal.

GM’s two-year free maintenance program including oil changes and tire rotations on the house will now be limited to two service visits instead of four, with changes going into effect for 2016 model year Chevrolet, Buick and GMC vehicles.

The basic warranty — the one that covers most of your non-powertrain items — will apparently remain unchanged at three years/36,000 miles.

The General explains:

“We talked to our customers and learned that free scheduled maintenance and warranty coverage don’t rank high as a reason to purchase a vehicle among buyers of nonluxury brands,” the company said in a statement. “We will reinvest the savings we will realize into other retail programs that our customers have told us they value more than these.”

That giggling you hear is the reaction of your nearest Hyundai and/or Kia dealer.

GM’s ostensible luxury brand, Cadillac, has a four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty; the 5/100 package was changed to 6/70 starting in model year 2013.

For what it’s worth, the basic Bugatti Veyron warranty is for two years, though the Super Sport variant bumped it up to three. Not that it matters, of course, since the entire production run has now been sold, and I doubt any of the 450 buyers were overly concerned with warranty issues.

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That’s a switch

The General Motors ignition-switch incident is growing like the Blob, and the part that perplexes me is that so much of it seemed avoidable. Yes, GM’s part-handling procedures seem dubious; yes, this debacle should have been dealt with before the rest of the world stuck its nose in. I admittedly never have owned one of the cars in question. But it never occurred to me that having the switch slide over from ON to OFF or ACC in the middle of the road was a death-dealing scenario.

Car and Driver’s July issue checks out the claims. They got themselves a Saturn Ion, one of the vehicles being recalled, and then rigged it to kill power assist to steering and brakes to simulate the problem. The results were not surprising: steering effort went up markedly, though not to a point where it couldn’t be dealt with, and braking effort quadrupled — once the vacuum was gone. It wasn’t on the first panic stop, because there’s a check valve in the line.

Still, neither of these is a problem if you simply restart the car, no trick if you remember that there’s an interlock and you have to shift the lever into neutral. Somewhere around ninety percent of panicky drivers, I suspect, will not remember that. (Trini, who actually owned one of these Ions, and was almost certainly aware of the vagaries of the car’s ignition switch, having replaced one once, would have; then again, she’s one of the least-panicky individuals on the planet.)

There remains the question of why the airbags didn’t deploy when Mr and Mrs Panicky hit the wall, but since there’s no legal specification other than “test dummies must not be subjected to this much force,” it’s difficult to compare notes among individual incidents. And I am reminded of my one and only Major Crash, out on a two-lane state highway in 2006, in which my car and a doe came to mutual death blows at an appallingly high speed. The airbags didn’t budge. Then again, I didn’t get so much as a scratch.

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A minor slip-up

I’ve been on the receiving end of exactly one automotive recall notice in my life, and I admit that I found it a lot more amusing than the government did. In ALL CAPS, the text thereof:

CERTAIN RESERVOIR TANK CAPS ON THE BRAKE MASTER CYLINDER WERE PRODUCED WITH A WORN OUT DIE AND LACK VENTILATION HOLES. AS A RESULT, THE PRESSURE IN THE RESERVOIR TANK CAN DROP GRADUALLY AS THE BRAKE PAD OR SHOE WEARS AND AMBIENT TEMPERATURE DROPS. ALSO, THE PRESSURE COULD REACH A POINT THAT THE BRAKE CALIPER AND DRUM CYLINDER ARE PULLED BACK BY THE VACUUM IN THE RESERVOIR TANK WHEN THE VEHICLE IS PARKED FOR A LONG TIME.

I duly presented myself to a Mazda dealer, who popped the hood and announced: “You have the good one.”

Mazda has had hard luck with spider-related recalls, but those could be reasonably defined as design defects, albeit tenuously. Sometimes, though, an automaker just flubs up:

The recall madness over at General Motors isn’t letting up anytime soon, as evidenced by this latest call-back of 8,208 Chevrolet Malibu and Buick LaCrosse sedans… GM issued a statement saying these sedans are being recalled due to “possible reduced braking performance,” according to Automotive News. The problem? Rear brake rotors may have accidentally been installed in the front brake assembly. And since both cars use more robust braking systems up front than out back, braking power could be reduced, increasing the risk of a crash.

All those rotors look alike, man. I duly looked up Gwendolyn’s OEM brake specifications, and they’re within 2 mm of the same diameter — but the front discs are nearly three times as thick as the rears. I can’t imagine the General popping for some combination more exotic than that.

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Meanwhile in Corvetteland

UAW Local 2164, which represents workers at GM’s Bowling Green Assembly facility, home of the Chevrolet Corvette, has voted nearly unanimously to authorize a strike:

93 percent of the workers who submitted ballots voted in favor of authorizing a strike. Still, the decision needs to be booted up to the regional and then national levels before any action can actually be taken. Eldon Renaud, the president of Local 2164, seems to think that the strike authorization will serve as a sort of saber rattling, getting the “immediate attention” of the facilities management.

“We’re like everybody else, we’re strike-shy,” Renauld told the media, according to the Associated Press. “Nobody wants to have a strike. Who really benefits by it?”

The union’s complaints:

Renaud said issues involved were safety and quality control.

He said there have been several “near misses” that could have resulted in serious injuries for assembly line workers at the Bowling Green plant. The union also worries that the elimination of quality control positions will affect the integrity of the plant’s quality procedures, he said.

Presumably the “near misses” do not include the sudden appearance of a sinkhole in the plant in mid-February, from which the last car was retrieved this week.

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Say hello to Patsy

First female CEO at General Motors. Historic moment? Maybe — or maybe not:

I am not as thrilled as the rest of the country seems to be by the appointment of a woman to lead General Motors. If not for the $10.5B-losing bailout, GM would have have had to examine their practices, make changes and compete in the real world market place. The Saturn never would have been killed and Cadillac models would once again have names instead of numbers. As it stands though, the bailout provided a soft landing for all of their stumbles and they are now upright and undamaged. But are they changed? If they’re not, God Help Mary T. Barra the first female CEO of GM and the patsy set up to take the blame for the coming fall.

In defense of Barra, she does seem to understand cars, something no one ever would have said of predecessor Dan Akerson.

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Instant justification

“Whew! That was a close one!” we’re supposed to be saying as the Treasury disposes of the balance of its holdings in General Motors, although Treasury — and therefore taxpayers — lost ten and a half billion dollars on the deal:

Without the bailout, the country would have lost more than 1 million jobs, and the economy could have slipped from recession into a depression, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said on a conference call with reporters.

Which is what he’s required to say: everything the government does, from handing out cell phones to putting tariffs on Chinese tires is justified by “the alternative would have been worse.”

Not that we can actually prove any such assertion, of course:

Well, if Jacob Lew says the alternative was worse than losing $10.5 billion of taxpayer money, who are we to disagree? Because the effects of hypothesized alternative scenarios are always subject to speculation, officials can justify any policy by declaring that things would have been worse if we had done something different. (Let’s keep this principle of Liberal Logic™ in mind: Next time some hippie peacenik tells you that Bush’s Iraq policy was a failure, just remind him that an imaginary hypothetical alternative — e.g., Saddam Hussein’s army invading Connecticut — would have been much worse.)

Oh, and that blue floodlight out in the yard? It keeps tigers away.

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Leaving the junkyard behind

They’re not out of the woods yet by any means, but one of the Big 3 ratings firms — Moody’s — has upgraded General Motors’ corporate debt from junk status to investment grade.

It’s the bottom rung of investment grade — Baa3, in Moody’s parlance — but it’s above the psychological barrier, and that’s almost certainly going to matter the next time GM needs to borrow a few bucks.

The other two ratings firms, S&P and Fitch, still rate GM as junk, but fairly high junk.

As for the rest of Detroit, Ford made it out of Moody’s junkyard in the spring of 2012; Chrysler is not traded on public exchanges, but has filed for an initial public offering, mostly at the behest of the Voluntary Employees Benefit Association of the United Auto Workers, which would like to turn some of its 41.5-percent ownership of Chrysler into actual cash. (Fiat owns the other 58.5 percent.)

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I’ll be working on my maintan

Autoblog posted this item on Thursday:

Autoblog screenshot

Whatever “maintance” is, apparently you get two years’ worth on your new Impala.

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Smaller Government Motors

Fifty million shares of General Motors go on the block today, thirty million from the Treasury, twenty million from the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust, in the hopes that the General’s return to the Standard & Poor’s 500 index (also today) will hype the price a bit.

Of the $49 billion taxpayers put up to bail out GM, almost $32 billion has been recovered; assuming a price in the low-to-mid-30s, the Treasury offering should bring in a billion more. Officially, Treasury plans to exit GM entirely by next April; it’s not likely they’ll break even, but the company may well be helped by losing the stigma of being “Government Motors” — at least in the States. Canada and the province of Ontario, which hold about 9 percent of GM stock, aren’t selling at this time.

Treasury, I have to figure, isn’t particularly thrilled by the fact that much of GM’s market momentum is being propelled by the arrival of new trucks, but I also figure that fiduciary responsibility trumps green posturing elsewhere in Washington. And if it doesn’t, well, it should.

(Via The Truth About Cars.)

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Those boys don’t look right

Marc Heitz sells Chevrolets in Norman. In fact, he sells a lot of Chevrolets: Heitz moved over 1900 cars last year. This record, however, does not keep him in the good graces of General Motors:

The best way to attract people to his lot, [Heitz] theorized, was to give them reasons beyond cars and trucks. His Norman, OK showroom has a 45-foot waterfall, an aquarium stocked with local fish species and animal tracks on the floor lead to an arcade for the kids. Outside the log-cabin-like dealership are bear and elk statues, a picnic area and two dog parks. It feels more Bass Pro Shops than car dealer.

And that, says the General, is the whole problem:

[B]ecause the Heitz building doesn’t have Chevy’s signature blue cladding and gold bowtie, GM says it will not pay Heitz his $250,000 quarterly dealer-excellence incentive. A GM spokesman said the company will be glad to reinstate the payments if only Heitz will modify the building to be in compliance with the corporate branding plan, including removing the animal footprints.

Said Heitz to Automotive News [paywall]: “It would be like putting socks on a rooster.”

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Symbol-mindedness

In other news, there actually is a Michigan Republican Party:

The Michigan Republican Party harshly criticized the Obama administration for allowing a Toyota Motor Corp. pickup truck to tow one of the retired space shuttles to its final home in Los Angeles.

“Barack Obama acts as if he singlehandedly built the U.S. domestic auto industry, meanwhile, a symbol of American greatness will be towed to its final resting place by a foreign competitor, forever cementing the image of a Toyota truck towing a retired space shuttle,” said Matt Frendewey, director of communications for the Michigan Republican Party on Monday.

“The symbolism of this PR stunt should be offensive to every red-blooded American with vested interest in the success of the U.S. automotive industry.”

The Toyota Tundra is built only in San Antonio, Texas, with 75 percent domestic (defined as “US and Canada”) content, compared to, um, 62 percent for the Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra twins that compete with it.

(Via The Truth About Cars.)

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Mysteries of General Motors

Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten has calculated that possession of a Chevrolet Volt makes you sexier — but not all that much:

I assure her that I am a working journalist and that my question is purely hypothetical. Judging by appearances alone, I ask, what would be my theoretical chance of having sex with her, expressed as a percentage?

“Three,” she says finally.

He then gestures toward the Volt, and says:

“This is my ride,” I say. “Does this new information change the hypothetical answer at all?”

She takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly.

“Three-point-five.”

Hey, it’s a 16.7-percent improvement. Isn’t that worth $35,000 after tax credits?

And speaking of statistics, here’s the Cadillac section of GM’s January sales report, as snipped from The Truth About Cars:

Cadillac sales January 2011

I knew the XLR had been marked for extinction because of low sales, but I had no idea they were this low. Minus one? That’s even below the point where you can make it up in volume.

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Keeping the General on a leash

There are few people of whom you can say “Even when he’s right, he’s wrong,” and one of them is Ralph Nader, who has decided that General Motors ought to postpone its stock offering, currently scheduled for next week; he and three like-minded meddlers dispatched a letter to the President requesting that the sale be delayed indefinitely.

The Detroit News quotes Nader:

“It’s the same old arrogant GM. There’s no sense of gratitude that they wouldn’t exist without the government, without the taxpayers.”

That much, I’ll give him. Besides, it was just Nader in the interview; there was no mention of the other co-conspirators, one of whom is Joan Claybrook, one of the dimmer bulbs ever to occupy the back seat of a motor-pool sedan, whose major contribution to Western civilization has been the notion that people won’t drive fast if you limit the numbers on auto speedometers.

And this bit from the letter sounds Claybrookian, if not precisely Orwellian:

“As majority shareholder in GM, the United States has the ability to direct or influence the company’s investment decisions. As the U.S. reduces its share, so its capacity to influence such decisions diminishes.”

It must really frost them that Washington doesn’t own a piece of Ford.

Actually, there is a perfectly good reason not to sell off a bunch of GM stock right now, and it did get mentioned in the letter: the Feds stand to lose a fair chunk of change on this first sale. (A Detroit News estimate says up to $5.4 billion.) I have no doubt that GM is tired of having Washington looking over its shoulder, but inasmuch as I stand to lose eighteen bucks on the deal — $5.4 billion split 300 million ways — I’d just as soon they waited a while longer.

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