• Electronic KeyCONCERN over the implications of a 2006 revision to a federal safety standard is spurring regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to reconsider their change. At issue is whether the change, which redefined what constitutes a car’s ignition key, has effectively increased the possibility of accidents caused by a vehicle rolling away.

     

    The matter involves the so-called smart key fobs used in millions of vehicles to replace conventional metal keys. Instead of pins and tumblers, these devices use an electronic code that enables a vehicle to be started either by pressing a button or inserting the fob into a slot on the dashboard.

    The problem is that under the revised NHTSA standard for such devices, the vehicle’s engine can be shut off and the key fob removed without the automatic transmission being shifted to the Park position. A spokesman for the safety agency, Jose Alberto Ucles, said in an e-mail exchange that the chief concerns behind the fresh look at the standard “are vehicle roll-away, theft, possible carbon monoxide poisoning and shutting off moving vehicles in the event of an emergency.”

    Since 1992, automakers have been required under Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 114 to prevent the key from being removed from the ignition unless the transmission is in Park, a measure intended to prevent the “accidental roll-away of motor vehicles.”

    But as electronic fobs became more popular, the agency expanded its definition of the key beyond the traditional physical object to include the electronic codes of smart fobs. This change would prove an unpleasant surprise for some drivers.

     “It doesn’t pass the common-sense test,” said Sean Kane, the president of Safety Research and Strategies, a Massachusetts consulting firm that provides research for plaintiff’s attorneys.

    A spokeswoman for the safety agency, Karen Aldana, said in an e-mail that automakers originally asked the agency whether an electronic code could be considered a key and they were told that was allowed. “NHTSA doesn’t wish to discourage innovation when it comes to automotive technology,” she wrote.

     

    [via The New York Times]

     

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  • New York State Department of Motor VehiclesOfficials at the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles have announced that the department will impose two points on the driving records of those who have been found guilty of driving while using a cell phone for offenses committed on or after Feb. 16 of this year.

    Previously, no points were assigned for talking on a cell phone although two points are assigned for texting while driving violations. The new regulation will align the point penalty for both violations.

    "Distracted driving is one of the most serious dangers on our roadways today," said DMV Executive Deputy Commissioner J. David Sampson. "By strengthening the current law, our hope is that motorists will become even more aware of the potential consequences of their actions if they use a cell phone while driving."

    In New York State, driver distraction is a contributing factor in at least one out of five crashes. Each year more than 300,000 tickets are issued statewide for cell phone violations. In 2009, nearly 5,500 people died nationwide in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver and more than 440,000 were injured.

    [via Automotive Fleet]

     

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  • Seal of the President of the United StatesThe Obama administration’s proposed 2012 budget eliminates or reduces funding for a number of programs, from DERA to fuel cells, and creates a consumer rebate for the purchase of electric vehicles. The cuts include eliminating funding for the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) and the budgets for the Fuels Program, the Fuel Cells Program, the Oil and Gas Research program, and the Unconventional Fossil Technology program.

    The administration has stated a serious commitment to electric vehicle technology, with a proposal to transform the existing $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles into a rebate available to consumers at the point of sale; a $200 million program to invest in electric vehicle infrastructure; removal of regulatory barriers to implementing electric vehicle infrastructure; and an increase in support for vehicle technology R&D.

    In addition, the administration’s proposed 2012 budget for the EPA include implementing new standards to reduce emissions from cars and light-duty trucks for model years 2012 through 2016, extending that program to model year 2017 and beyond, and creating a similar program to reduce GHGs from medium-and heavy-duty trucks for model years 2014-2018.

    With the budget now being sent to Congress for consideration, it will likely undergo major changes as the Republican-controlled House of Representatives pushes for deeper budget cuts.

     

    [via Automotive Fleet]

     

     

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  • Construction on side of highwayTwo senators introduced legislation last week to revamp the nation's surface transportation system, aiming to cut traffic deaths by 50 percent by 2030.

     

    Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., chairman of the surface transportation subcommittee, introduced a bill to set sweeping policy goals for the nation's transportation system.

     

    "The United States' population is projected to increase by 50 percent between now and 2050," Rockefeller said. "What's needed is a sound, national blueprint for a 21st century system that's safe, efficient, and improves the mobility of people and American-made goods."

     

    Rockefeller and Lautenberg want to reduce national motor vehicle-related fatalities by 50 percent by 2030.

     

    The bills would have required NHTSA to act to upgrade numerous auto safety standards and would have given NHTSA more power to get dangerous vehicles off the roads and higher fines to deter automakers.

     

    The senators also want to reduce national per capita motor vehicle miles traveled on an annual basis and cut greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.

     

    Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters at the White House on Wednesday that the administration will work with Congress to properly fund transit construction projects. But he said the administration will not propose a gas tax increase or other mechanism to fund additional spending.

     

    The surface transportation programs authorized under a 2005 law expired at the end of 2009. The Obama administration and Senate transportation leaders want a six-year extension of transportation policy.

     

    [via The Detroit News]

     

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  • Here’s another Automotive Fleet safety tip to pass on to your drivers.  This time they’re looking at what to do when you know a collision is about to occur:

    In most cases, a driver can turn the vehicle quicker than he or she can stop it. Consider whether turning will help avoid the collision. Make sure you have a good grip with both hands on the steering wheel. Once you have turned away or changed lanes, you must be ready to keep the vehicle under control. Some drivers steer away from one collision only to end up in another. Always steer in the direction you want the vehicle to go. 

    With ABS: A valuable feature of ABS is that you can turn your vehicle while braking with less or no skidding. But do not "jerk" the steering wheel (steer violently) while braking if you have ABS. Doing so may send you farther to the side than intended, because the vehicle will continue to respond to steering input while ABS is working. Practice using ABS in an empty parking lot so you know how the vehicle will respond. 

    Without ABS: If you do not have ABS, you must use a different procedure to turn quickly. You should step on the brake pedal, then let up and turn the steering wheel. Braking will slow the vehicle, put more weight on the front tires, and allow for a quicker turn. Do not lock up the front wheels while braking or turn so sharply that the vehicle can only plow ahead. 

    Remember, generally it is better to run off the road than to crash head-on into another vehicle. Don't swerve into the opposing lane; turn to the right, going off the roadway if necessary.

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  • Toyota LogoThe Obama administration's investigation into Toyota safety problems found no electronic flaws to account for reports of sudden, unintentional acceleration and other safety problems. Government investigators said Tuesday the only known cause of the problems are mechanical defects that were fixed in previous recalls.

    The Transportation Department, assisted by engineers with NASA, said its 10-month study of Toyota vehicles concluded there was no electronic cause of unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas. The study, which was launched at the request of Congress, responded to consumer complaints that flawed electronics could be the culprit behind Toyota's spate of recalls.

    "We feel that Toyota vehicles are safe to drive," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

    Toyota said in a statement that the report should "further reinforce confidence in the safety of Toyota and Lexus vehicles" and "put to rest unsupported speculation" about the company's electronic throttle control systems, which it said are "well-designed and well-tested to ensure that a real world, un-commanded acceleration of the vehicle cannot occur."

    NHTSA Deputy Administrator Ron Medford said that in many cases when a driver complained that the brakes were ineffective, the most likely cause was "pedal misapplication," in which the driver stepped on the accelerator instead of the brakes.

    LaHood said NASA engineers "rigorously examined" nine Toyotas driven by consumers who complained of unintended acceleration. NASA reviewed 280,000 lines of software code to look for flaws that could cause the acceleration. Investigators tested mechanical components in Toyotas that could lead to the problem and bombarded vehicles with electro-magnetic radiation to see whether it could make the electronics cause the cars to speed up.

    The National Academy of Sciences is conducting a separate study of unintended acceleration in cars and trucks across the auto industry. The panel is expected to release its findings this fall.

     

    [via The New York Times]

     

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  • Buffalo Wild Wings RestaurantOne of the challenges facing the widespread adoption of electric vehicles for consumer and commercial purposes is a lack of widespread infrastructure to keep those vehicles powered day in and day out.  But now some everyday businesses are starting to take notice of this need:

    Sunshine Restaurant Corp., developer of Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants and sports bars, recently joined Progress Energy Florida and NovaCharge to celebrate the installation of a ChargePoint electric vehicle charging station at the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Kissimmee. 

    Buffalo Wild Wings also unveiled plans to install additional ChargePoint stations at a new restaurant in Daytona Beach and at all future Central Florida locations. Guests of the restaurant looking for a charge can find the station locations, check availability and get directions by using the ChargePoint network "find stations" live map. 

    "While electric vehicles are great for environmental reasons, we believe there is a strong business case for providing charging stations for our customers," said Andrew L. Gross, president and CEO of Sunshine Restaurant Corp. "As the number of electric vehicles grows over the coming years, we know customers will choose Buffalo Wild Wings over our competitors because of the ability to charge their vehicle for free while enjoying their favorite sporting event." 

    "As the ways our customers use electricity evolve, it's important that we, as a utility, adapt to their changing energy needs," said David Maxon, regional vice president of Progress Energy Florida. "We're taking steps to support the adoption of this exciting, environmentally friendly technology today while determining how we can best support electric vehicles in the long term." 

    [via Automotive Fleet]

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  • GM headquartersDomestic automakers -- on the cusp of emerging from nearly a decade of job cuts and market-share losses -- are scrambling to fill thousands of engineering positions after shedding thousands over the last 10 years through job cuts and early-retirement offers.

    GM, Ford and Chrysler are working with colleges and universities to develop courses to train and retrain the engineers who will be expected to develop tomorrow's electric and hybrid cars and are trying to recruit from other industries.

    This year, U.S. auto industry sales are expected to increase about 10% to 12.5 million. But that's still a far cry from the 16 million or more sold annually for most of the last decade.

    "I have confidence that the auto industry will come back," said Rihong Mo, 50, who left General Electric's locomotive division in November after more than 11 years with the company to lead a team of engineers at Ford. "This is the frontier of electric motors."

    "There are a lot of companies looking for people with certain skill sets," said David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. "It's creating a dilemma and it is just the start."

    Despite the current hiring spree, engineers who lost their jobs over recent years may find it difficult to get jobs without additional training in electric vehicles.

    Ten years ago, when Ann Marie Sastry, an engineering professor at the University of Michigan, started teaching courses in advanced batteries, fewer than 20 would sign up. Several years later, it was drawing more than 100 per class.

    Still, Sastry, who also is CEO of lithium-ion battery startup Sakti 3, said universities must strike a balance between curricula that train students for the future without getting ahead of the industry.

    "There is no major automaker without a serious play in hybrid and electric vehicles," she said. "But these vehicles, in the aggregate, comprise well under 10% of the consumer vehicle portfolio."

    [via Detroit Free Press]

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  • Car Checkup device Monitoring the way your drivers are using fuel is an important part of managing a fleet.  A data collecting tool such as the recently introduced CarCheckup can help you better understand your drivers’ habits.

     

    The CarCheckup Device is contained in a plastic case that fits in the palm of your hand. It can be plugged into the OBD II port (usually located just beneath the dashboard) of any vehicle produced since 1996. The device monitors basic information such as miles per hour, rpm, distance traveled, top speed, how much time the car spent at various speeds and how often there was hard acceleration or extreme braking; it can also monitor for trouble codes to alert you to repair needs and monitor more advanced data such as intake manifold pressure, throttle position and ignition timing advance.

     

    Once the data has been collected, a fleet operator can simply remove the device, pop out a USB port, and read a report of that data on any home or office computer.

     

    The CarCheckup Device costs $149.97, which includes a one-year subscription to the product’s website and charts and graphs for one vehicle. Other vehicles can be added to the service for $25 per vehicle per year.

     

    For more information on CarCheckup, visit http://www.carcheckup.com.

     

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  • Kumho TireKumho Tire U.S.A. Inc. will raise prices on all passenger, light truck, and medium truck tires effective March 1.

    Kumho stated that the details of this increase will be provided to its customers in the near future. Kumho last raised its consumer and truck tire prices, up to 6.5 percent, on Nov. 1, 2010. Kumho is the latest tire manufacturer to announce an upcoming price increase.

    "The unprecedented increase in raw material costs over the past few months have made it absolutely essential for Kumho to implement this increase," the company stated.

    Modern Tire Dealer magazine also listed a number of other tire manufacturers that have announced price increases, including when these price hikes will go, or have gone, into effect.

    For a full list of the changes, click here.

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