• New higher mileage and emissions standard set forth by the Obama administration are set to change the nature of the American auto fleet in the near future.  The new rules take effect in 2012 and are to be fully achieved by 2016, and will mean and end to the days of large, inefficient vehicles as a mainstay of American life.

    Under the new standards
    , the average fuel economy of an American vehicle will have to be 35.5 miles per gallon, 10 mpg more than today.  Passenger vehicles will be required to get 39 mpg, and light trucks must step up to 30 mpg.   This translates to a fundamental change in the nature of our vehicles. Cars and trucks will have to be made smaller, lighter, and overall more efficient.

    These changes will have a large impact on the way people purchase and use work and personal vehicles.  Eric Fedewa, vice president of global powertrain forecasting for auto consulting firm CSM Worldwide, predicts that pickup trucks will become so much more expensive that they will be almost exclusively used for work.  And families will have to make new choices as SUVs become obsolete in the wake of passenger vehicles like the Mazda 5 small van.

    Some consumers are concerned about the change’s effect on their businesses. Dixie Bishop, who runs a plumbing business in San Antonio, worries the new requirements will drive up her costs at a time when customers are cutting back on repairs. She asked, “Are they going to take my horsepower down? I have to be able to carry old water heaters and toilets. It’s not beneficial for me to haul one water heater at a time. We need the power to pull these heavy items.”

    Changes will begin with smaller vehicles and improvements to the internal combustion engine, and will soon branch out into many other venues, including hybrid and electric vehicles.  But with fuel prices still relatively low, consumers may not be ready to invest in hybrids that sacrifice performance for efficiency.  When gasoline reached 4 dollars a gallon last year, sales of hybrid vehicles skyrocketed. Now that prices are down to just over 2 dollars, the efficient vehicles are barely selling.  The administration is confident that the higher price tags of the newer vehicles, an average of about $1,300, will be recouped in gas savings over three years.


    Photo courtesy of eviltomthai under the Creative Commons License.

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  • The auto industry has been hit hard by the economic downturn of the last year, but the need for a rebound in sales has led to a new incentive for consumers: lower sticker prices on new cars.  Automakers have been cutting prices for the 2010 model years with such zeal that the new versions of some vehicles actually cost less than their predecessors.

    Mercedes-Benz
    has cut the price of its E350 sedan by $3,300 to $49,475.  Nissan is introducing price cuts to the Sentra sedan of between $130 and $1080 depending on the version.  And Chrysler is going the furthest with its cuts, lowering the MSRP on almost all of its models.  For example, the 2010 Town & Country minivan is down $1,030 from 2009 to $29,215.

    The lower “manufacturers suggested retail price” isn’t the lowest customers can expect to pay, either.  The final deal is worked out between the dealer and the customer, which could work greatly in favor of buyers who are interested in low-demand vehicles the dealers are trying to unload.

    The main reason for the price cuts is simple competition.  The demand for new cars is the lowest it has been in decades, and lowering the price of newer models can serve to increase the visibility of the product on the road and move slow sellers off of dealer lots.

    Before you rush out to acquire one of these cheaper new cars, be advised: not all of the price cuts are strictly competitive.  The 2010 Chevrolet Equinox has gotten a price cut but has also lost its six-cylinder engine in favor of a smaller four-cylinder. The 2010 Cadillac SRX is also much smaller than its predecessor in exchange for a price cut.

    Photo courtesy of rutlo under the Creative Commons License.
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  • Early sales of Ford’s new specialty fleet vehicle, the Transit Connect, indicate that small business owners are already big fans.  The initial shipments of the Transit Connect have been quickly snapped up at dealerships nationwide.

    Ford reported that on a national basis, an average Transit Connect sells within 8 days of arriving on a dealer’s lot; significantly faster than the current turnover rate for most vehicles.

    The Transit Connect is a unique vehicle that combines the cargo capacities of a full-size pickup truck with the profile of a van and the fuel economy of a medium-sized car: 22 city/25 highway miles per gallon.  It boasts a low enough clearance to clear any bridge or parking deck, and fits into a normal sized city parking space.  These features combined with its affordable price make the Transit Connect an enticing alternative to more traditional vehicles for small business use.

    Ford commercial truck director Len Decula thinks the popularity of the Transit Connect means something more: “We see rising optimism among small business owners and strong demand for arriving Transit Connect vehicles among this group as reflections of an encouraging economic uptick.”

    Photo courtesy of crazytales562 under the Creative Commons License .

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  • A vehicle’s blind spot is one of a drivers greatest liabilities.  Every year, more than 826,000 vehicles are involved in accidents caused by a blind spot.  While these accidents are very rarely fatal, they have a high incident of injury and can cause major property damage.  For the small fleet owner, this effect can be devastating in lost time, repair, and medical costs.

    Much research and development has gone into creating systems that eliminate the dangers that blind spots pose. Ford has introduced an option on newer models known as the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), which uses radar to scan an area beside the car for any objects between the bumper and the side-view mirror. If an object is present, a small light on the mirror illuminates to alert the driver to the presence of something in their blind spot.

    Several new Ford and Chevrolet models are also equipped with a small extra mirror integrated into the side-view mirror called the BlindZoneMirror.  Each mirror is tailored to the specific model of vehicle it is attached to and has won a 2009 Automotive News PACE award, which honors “superior innovation and technological advancement.”

    While technological solutions are helpful, it is still important that drivers are aware of how to monitor their blind spot.  George Platzer, the inventor of the BlindZoneMirror, has also developed a manual system that allows a driver to eliminate the blind spot completely: First, the driver leans his head against the driver’s side window and adjusts the mirror so that the side of the vehicle is just barely visible.  Then he leans to the center of the vehicle (between the front seats) and does the same with the passenger-side mirror.

    Once the mirrors have been properly adjusted, a vehicle approaching from behind should appear in the side-view mirror before disappearing from the rear view. Then it should appear in the driver’s peripheral vision before leaving the side-view mirror.

    Ford chief safety engineer Steve Kozak wholeheartedly approves of the method: “If we could train everyone in the United States to do it that way, then I think we would probably be a lot better and we wouldn’t need a system like [BLIS],” he said.

    Make sure your drivers understand the importance of checking their blind spot.Photo courtesy of nimish gogri under the Creative Commons License.
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  • Nine fleet professionals were chosen this year for induction into the Fleet Hall of Fame.  These individuals have been selected for their dedication and contribution to the industry, and will be honored in a ceremony on September 10th at the 2009 AFLA conference in Phoenix, AZ:

    • Bob Betagole, Mike Albert Leasing
    • John Blessing, formerly of McCullagh Leasing
    • Ed Bobit, Bobit Business Media
    • Stan Chason, formerly of GELCO
    • Dennis LaLiberty, formerly of Wheels Inc
    • Duane Peterson, formerly of PHH
    • Jim Rallo, formerly of PHH
    • Helen Smorgans, formerly of Johnson & Johnson
    • Pat Starr, formerly of Consolidated Services Corp

    For the list of 2008 inductees, click here.

    The 2009 AFLA Conference, “Managing the Matrix of Change”, will take place at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa in Phoenix, Sept. 9-11. Attendance is expected to exceed last year’s event with over 300 registrants already signed up.

    The deadline to register for the AFLA conference is next week. Visit www.aflaonline.com to sign up.

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  • Toyota Motor Corp. is recalling 97,500 Corolla and Scion vehicles due to the potential of ice accumulating on the cars’ brake systems and making it difficult for drivers to slow down in cold conditions.

    The recall is in place for the 2009 and 2010 model year Corolla, Corolla Matrix and 2009 model Scion xD vehicles.

    If driven in extremely low temperatures, ice may accumulate at the braking port on the affected vehicles and decrease braking power.  Toyota claims that this defect can lengthen the distance needed to stop.

    Because the condition is only a risk in extremely low temperatures, the recall applies to 19 states known for their cold winters: Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

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  • Michelin North America Inc. has filed comments with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that support a proposed program to provide customers with information about the fuel efficiency of tires.  The program is currently in the rulemaking phase.

    If the proposed program were to be implemented, a system of rankings for consumer tire fuel efficiency would be created “that will clearly communicate to consumers at the point of sale the fuel efficiency of individual tires via an objective rating system,” say MNA officials.

    “Michelin further supports setting maximum rolling resistance standards for all passenger tires sold in the U.S. to guarantee minimum levels of tire fuel efficiency performance and spur further progress in tire performance.”

    “Tires account for up to 20% of fuel consumption for passenger vehicles. Allowing consumers to understand this fact and compare fuel economy performance among tire brands at the point of purchase is an important step in improving the overall fuel efficiency of vehicles, reducing fuel costs to consumers and lessening the impact of road transportation on the environment.”

    Photo courtesy of The Dana Files under the Creative Commons License.
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  • According to a recent study by SmartDrive Systems, a leader in fleet safety and efficiency, commercial fleet drivers are distracted an average of 8% of total measured driving time, with a range of 1.1% to 19.9%.  The study reviewed almost 6,200 vehicle-years of data across nearly 25,000 drivers picked from 384 commercial fleets.

    .

     

    he study, which was conducted mainly by in-vehicle video monitoring, recorded distractions that cannot be quantified by traditional approaches, such as using a cell phone, using maps, eating/drinking, smoking, or any other distraction that causes a driver to take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds or have their hands engaged with something besides driving for more than three seconds. The study identified more than 50 types of driver distractions.
    The study also allowed fleets to proactively prevent these distractions.  SmartDrive kept ongoing improvement records for individual drivers during the course of the study, which enabled fleet managers to review video footage of their drivers and coach them on proper practices, scored and prioritized by the SmartDrive Expert Review.  Drivers reduced distracting behavior by a significant percentage with this mitigating strategy:
    -54 percent: smoking
    -52 percent: maps or navigation
    -52 percent: mobile phone- handheld
    -51 percent: beverage
    -44 percent: mobile phone – hands free
    -40 percent: food
    -30 percent: general distraction
    “These recent studies demonstrate the importance of fleets taking proactive measures to minimize the risk of driver distraction in their operations,” said Greg Drew, president and CEO of SmartDrive Systems. “Fortunately, it is possible for fleets to realize significant reductions in specific behaviors. The effort spent can have a dramatic impact on collisions, saving lives and money.”
    The study, which was conducted mainly by in-vehicle video monitoring, recorded distractions that cannot be quantified by traditional approaches, such as using a cell phone, using maps, eating/drinking, smoking, or any other distraction that causes a driver to take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds or have their hands engaged with something besides driving for more than three seconds. The study identified more than 50 types of driver distractions.

    The study also allowed fleets to proactively prevent these distractions.  SmartDrive kept ongoing improvement records for individual drivers during the course of the study, which enabled fleet managers to review video footage of their drivers and coach them on proper practices, scored and prioritized by the SmartDrive Expert Review.  Drivers reduced distracting behavior by a significant percentage with this mitigating strategy:

    • 54 %: smoking
    • 52 %: maps or navigation
    • 52 %: mobile phone- handheld
    • 51 %: beverage
    • 44 %: mobile phone – hands free
    • 40 %: food

    30 percent: general distraction

    “These recent studies demonstrate the importance of fleets taking proactive measures to minimize the risk of driver distraction in their operations,” said Greg Drew, president and CEO of SmartDrive Systems. “Fortunately, it is possible for fleets to realize significant reductions in specific behaviors. The effort spent can have a dramatic impact on collisions, saving lives and money.”

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  • Bus Drivers in the Pacific Island country of Samoa are fuming over the decision to switch all traffic to driving on the left side of the road.  Some drivers say they would rather set fire to their buses than make the switch, according to the Brisbane Times.

    The historic and highly controversial road rule change will take place on September 7th. It is designed to align Samoa with the driving regulations in nearby Australia and New Zealand and encourage relatives living abroad to export vehicles home.

    A group of 24 local bus operators are refusing to pay the charge of $50,000 USD per bus to convert the vehicles to right-hand drive and move the passenger door to the other side of the bus, claiming that the cost of doing so would put them out of business. The Samoan government has offered a six-month waiving of license fees, but that compensation only comes to $1,180.

    Bus driver Nanai Tawan from Mapuitiga Transport said the price of conversion was so excessive that he would set his buses on fire before driving on the left: “In protest I would rather bring my buses to parliament and burn them there for parliament to see what they are doing to us.”

    Villagers angry over the road changes have pulled up the new “keep left” road signs, repainted directional arrows on the roads to reflect the old orientation, and have even stated that they will not allow cars to drive through their villages if the vehicles are driving on the left side of the road.  A group known as People Against Switching Sides (PASS) has filed a suit against the government.

    Samoan Prime Minister Tullaepa Sailele Malielegaoi stands firmly behind the switch despite criticism that he made the decision without consulting the community or first determining the feasibility of the switch.  This month he further angered the opposition, saying that it would only take a person three minutes to learn how to drive on the left side of the road.

    Photo courtesy of Felipe Skroski under the Creative Commons License.
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  • Now that the Cash for Clunkers program is over, the numbers are rollin’ in.  During the program, 690,114 cars were destroyed.  However, only 40% of cars purchased by consumers after trading in their old vehicles were American-made.

    Secretary of Transportation
    Ray LaHood called the CARS program “wildly successful” because of the large jump in sales during its run and added that “American consumers and workers were the clear winners thanks to the Cash for Clunkers program.” Consumers definitely won with CARS.  Demand was so high that the program’s initial funding was exhausted in less than a week.  It is not yet known exactly how many of the 690,114 sales were pull-forward sales and how many were purchases that would not have been made without the incentive.

    Sales of more fuel-efficient vehicles saw a huge spike during the run of Cash for Clunkers, with the average mileage on trade-ins at 15.8 mpg compared to new vehicle mileage of 24.9 mpg.  That’s an average improvement in fuel economy of 58%.  Although, it is debatable whether the sales of environmentally friendly cars offset the impact of manufacturing those cars.

    American automakers did get a boost from Cash for Clunkers.  Ford reported its first increase in sales since 2007 and GM added factory shifts to meet product demands.  Manny of the cars sold were at least assembled in the United States, but the Big Three automakers only had 38% of total sales.

    The biggest seller under the program was Toyota, with 19.4% of final sales.  GM and Ford had 17.6% and 14.4% respectively.
    An interesting side note: all of the ten most traded-in vehicles come from US companies.
    10 Most Traded-In Vehicles under CARS
    1. Ford Explorer 4WD
    2. Ford F150 Pickup 2WD
    3. Jeep Grand Cherokee 4WD
    4. Ford Explorer 2WD
    5. Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan 2WD
    6. Jeep Cherokee 4WD
    7. Chevrolet Blazer 4WD
    8. Chevrolet C1500 Pickup 2WD
    9. Ford F150 Pickup 4WD
    10. Ford Windstar FWD Van
    10 Most Purchased Vehicles under CARS
    1. Toyota Corolla
    2. Honda Civic
    3. Toyota Camry
    4. Ford Focus
    5. Hyundai Elantra
    6. Nissan Versa
    7. Toyota Prius
    8. Honda Accord
    9. Honda Fit
    10. Ford Escape FWD

    Sales of more fuel-efficient vehicles saw a huge spike during the run of Cash for Clunkers, with the average mileage on trade-ins at 15.8 mpg compared to new vehicle mileage of 24.9 mpg.  That’s an average improvement in fuel economy of 58%.  Although, it is debatable whether the sales of environmentally friendly cars offset the impact of manufacturing those cars.

    American automakers did get a boost from Cash for Clunkers.  Ford reported its first increase in sales since 2007 and GM added factory shifts to meet product demands.  Manny of the cars sold were at least assembled in the United States, but the Big Three automakers only had 38% of total sales.

    The biggest seller under the program was Toyota, with 19.4% of final sales.  GM and Ford had 17.6% and 14.4% respectively.

    *An interesting side note: all of the ten most traded-in vehicles come from US companies.

    10 Most Traded-In Vehicles under CARS

    1. Ford Explorer 4WD
    2. Ford F150 Pickup 2WD
    3. Jeep Grand Cherokee 4WD
    4. Ford Explorer 2WD
    5. Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan 2WD
    6. Jeep Cherokee 4WD
    7. Chevrolet Blazer 4WD
    8. Chevrolet C1500 Pickup 2WD
    9. Ford F150 Pickup 4WD
    10. Ford Windstar FWD Van

    10 Most Purchased Vehicles under CARS

    1. Toyota Corolla
    2. Honda Civic
    3. Toyota Camry
    4. Ford Focus
    5. Hyundai Elantra
    6. Nissan Versa
    7. Toyota Prius
    8. Honda Accord
    9. Honda Fit
    10. Ford Escape FWD
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