• Customers with certain Citi MasterCards have found their accounts terminated this week in a move that came with little to no warning from the credit card giant.


    Citi has confirmed that it is in fact shutting down customer accounts.  In a statement, the bank said that it “decided to close a limited number of oil partner co-branded MasterCard accounts.” This number includes Shell, Citgo, Exxon Mobil and Phillips 66-Conoco cards.


    The accounts were terminated last Wednesday, with letters sent out by the bank to inform customers of the change on Monday, according to a Citi spokesman.  The bank declined to reveal how many accounts were cancelled or how much available credit they represent.  However, unlike Citi’s move to shut down its Home Depot cards, the oil-partnered cards will still be made available for new customers.


    Citi would not say why the affected accounts were shut down, saying in its statement only that it is continuously reevaluating its products.  Analysts noted that after its third quarter earnings report posted $8 billion in losses, Citi has been drastically reducing its outstanding credit to customers.


    “It is kind of an extraordinary action, but these are extraordinary times,” said Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research for CreditCards.com.


    The most devastating effect of the card shutdowns could be damage to customers’ credit scores. Card holders who think their cards were unfairly cancelled can try contacting the bank for reinstatement, but John Ulzheimer of credit.com doesn’t see much hope for that strategy.


    “In this environment,” he said, “it’s not as successful as it was in the heyday of credit cards, where you could in fact call and plead your case.”


    Photo courtesy of SqueakyMarmot under the Creative Commons License.

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  • Toyota recently issued a massive recall due to the possibility of floor mats in its vehicles moving forward and jamming the accelerator while engaged. 


    Affecting nearly3.8 million vehicles, Toyota is acknowledging the problem on a grand scale.  However, the automaker is not planning on redesigning the floor mats, instead requesting that customers simply remove them.  In the wake of this issue, some auto manufacturers are considering a new technology that would help to nullify the problem: smart gas pedals.


    The new technology tells the car’s engine to ignore the gas pedal’s input if the brake is depressed at the same time. “It is an additional safety feature,” said Thomas Plucinsky, a spokesman for BMW. “The brake takes precedence.”  The technology, which utilizes a drive-by-wire accelerator, only engages when the vehicle is in motion.


    A spokesman for Toyota confirmed that while not considering replacing its defective floor mats, his company is considering something like a smart gas pedal system as one option for eliminating accidental acceleration.


    The system has already worked for other automakers.  Audi and Volkswagen already have smart pedals in place, and Nissan plans to include the feature on the 2010 Infiniti M.  Chrysler utilizes a similar technology that brings the car’s engine speed to idle when both pedals are used.


    As useful as smart pedals may sound, some companies don’t see the point. Chris Naughton, a spokesman for Honda, says his company will “continue to accept application of the accelerator and brake pedals as representing the driver’s intention.”


    Photo courtesy of danielctw under the Creative Commons License.

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  • ChurchBrothers Collision Repair, based in Indianapolis,recently received a special award from the state of Indiana recognizing the body shop chain’sdedication to reducing pollution.


    Church Brothers is thefirst major collision repair shop in Indianato fully convert its painting operations to a waterborne paint system.The conversion has been done at all six of the company’s Indiana locations.  The change hascaused a 25 percent reduction in harmful organic compound emissions duringrefinishing operations.  In recognition of this dedication to theenvironment, the Indiana Department ofEnvironmental Management presentedChurch Brothers with an award during the 2009 IndianaGovernor’s Awards for Excellence program held last month.


    “We are pleased and veryhonored that the ‘waterborne project’ undertaken by our small business has beenrecognized at such a high level,” said Ted McClintic,president of Church Brothers Collision Repair. “We hope all repair shops willget energized from our initiative and do their part to reduce our emissions.”

    The waterborne basecoatfor automobiles provides better coverage with less paint sprayed over a givenarea and also reduces the amount of hazardous waste generated by olderpaints.  The new system also creates a safer health environment for shopemployees.


    Photo courtesy of rapidpaint

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  • According to AAA Mid-Atlantic, 58.9 percent of the 7,945 people who died in vehicle accidents over the last 5 years in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia were involved in single-vehicle crashes.


    “We are seeing a troubling trend — an epidemic of single-vehicle crashes…on area roads,” John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, told theWashington Post. “In addition to operator error and unforgiving roads, certain risk factors — such as driving at an excessive rate of speed, driving at night, driving under the influence, and having a track record of prior traffic convictions and crashes — are the leading common denominators.”


    Townsend conducted his research using National Highway Traffic Safety Administrationstatistics from 2004 to 2008.  He concluded that in 2008, almost 60 percent of the 1,449 people killed in crashes in the three jurisdictions died in single-vehicle crashes. They accounted for nearly 64 percent of Virginia road fatalities, 62 percent of the District’s and 53 percent of those in Maryland.


    This week, another single-vehicle fatal crash made headlines when U.S. soccer player Charlie Davies was involved in an early-morning accident on the George Washington Parkway near Washington, D.C. The accident tore the vehicle in two, and a female passenger was killed. Davies, who had just helped his U.S. soccer team qualify for the 2010 World Cup on Saturday, was rushed to Washington Hospital Center.


    Photo courtesy of jonfeinstein under the Creative Commons License.

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  • Maryland-based New Energy Technologies is introducing what they hope will be the next great green technology: a speed bump that generates electricity from every car that drives over it.


    According to president and chief executive of New Energy Technologies Meetesh Patel, a car that passes over the ramp pushes down embedded actuators below the surface that are attached to a generator.  For now, the company isn’t saying exactly how much power the MotionPower device generates or how it works, but driving over the ramp does activate a light that confirms power is being generated.


    The device is being tested this week at the Four Seasons hotel in Washington, D.C.  Liliana Baldassari, a spokeswoman for the Four Seasons, said the temporary trial may lead to a permanent installation later on. “It makes so much sense, and if it could power some of our hotel that would be fantastic,” she said. “We’re always looking for ways to be greener.” That includes offering guests hybrid cars for airport pickups and drop-offs.


    The Four Seasons trial is the second field test of MotionPower.  Over Labor Day weekend, a unit was installed in a Burger King drive-through in Hillside, N.J.  data from that test allowed New Energy Technologies to make design improvements prior to the current test.


    The idea behind the MotionPower is to capture kinetic energy that would otherwise be wasted and use it to help businesses offset their operating expenses.  It could also be used to power road signs or streetlights.  A side benefit of the device is the traffic-slowing effect of a normal speed bump.


    New Energy Technologies hopes to have the MotionPower on the market within one to two years at a cost of $1,500 to $2,000 a unit, Mr. Patel said. He estimates that one unit would pay for itself in electricity savings within two or three years.


    Photo courtesy of snapzdc under the Creative Commons License.

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  • General Motors is recalling 10,119 MY 2009-2010 Pontiac Vibe vehicles equipped with a 1.8L engine and originally sold in, or currently registered in, a state that can have freezing temperatures during winter.


    According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the intake manifold suction port for the brake vacuum can lock up during extremely cold conditions. This can occur because of the freezing of condensation resulting from positive crankcase ventilation. This could lead to an increase in vehicle stopping distance, raising the risk of a collision.


    Dealers will modify the brake vacuum line free of charge. The recall involves vehicles from the following states: Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin and Wyoming. A special coverage for vehicles registered in all other states will be implemented in the same time frame, NHTSA said.


    The safety recall is expected to begin on or before Oct. 23. Vehicle owners can reach Pontiac at (800) 620-7668.


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  • A recent examination of federal legislation directed at curbing carbon emissions projects that if the measures were to pass, the price of gasoline could rise by 15 cents per gallon on average between 2012 and 2019.


    The research firm Point Carbon conducted a study of the carbon dioxide emission control provisions included in theKerry-Boxer Senate bill.  The bill takes copiously from theWaxman-Markey bill passed earlier this year in the House of Representatives, and states that a proposed cap-and-trade program for emissions would cost companies $15 per ton.


    Point Carbon analyst Lisa Zelljadt told FleetOwner magazine that while trucking companies would not be subject to the emissions restrictions under the proposed plan, gasoline and diesel refineries would be.  That means that the added cost of carbon emission allowances would inevitably be passed on to customers in the United States in the form of price hikes on fuel.


    “Our breakdown of carbon-allowance pricing shows that $10 per ton equates to roughly a 10 cent per gallon increase for gasoline; an increase that would be roughly the same for diesel fuel,” she explained. “However, as you get on average more miles per gallon from diesel fuel compared to gasoline, that price increase due to any carbon allowance pass-through might be slightly less.”


    However, Point Carbon is forecasting an average price of $15 per metric ton when the program would become active between 2012 and 2019. In turn, gasoline could rise by 15 cents per gallon from market price, with chances of a slightly lower price hike for diesel.


    Photo courtesy of AgentAkit under the Creative Commons License.

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  • Michigan-based Mancuso Florists has weighed in on the benefits of the fuel-efficient Ford Transit Connect.  The compact van has helped the business cut down on its fuel costs while maximizing its deliveries.


    “It costs us about $30 to fill the gas tank in the Transit Connect,” said Frank Mancuso, proprietor of Mancuso Florists in St. Clair Shores, Mich. “It costs us about $70 to fill the tank in one of our full-size vans. A full tank lasts around the same time in either vehicle, so delivery costs are significantly reduced by using the Transit Connect.”


    The Transit Connect is specifically engineered to meet the needs of small businesses, according to Ford.  It is built on a dedicated front-wheel drive commercial platform, with a 2.0L Duratec I-4 engine and an automatic overdrive transaxle.  The van delivers 22 city, 25 highwayEPA-rated miles per gallon, and provides 135.3 cubic feet of cargo space with a payload capacity of 1,600 pounds.


    The customizable nature of the Transit connect allows it to be specially fitted for the unique needs of any business, including a flower shop.  The split rear cargo doors and low load floor make both loading and deliveries significantly easier.


    “While reduced delivery costs are critical, Transit Connect offers other key advantages for floral retailers,” said Bruce Wright, editor of Flowers Magazine. “Small overall dimensions make Transit Connect much more maneuverable than traditional full-size vans, key in urban markets. It’s easier to handle and much simpler to park, reducing driver stress.”


    The Transit Connect also presents the right image for a florist. “A full-size van is almost invisible, because they’re everywhere,” observed Mancuso. “But all kinds of people notice our Transit Connect. Our drivers get so many inquiries about the vehicle, we hand out cards with information about it. Transit Connect serves as a ‘rolling billboard’ for our business.”


    Photo courtesy of Irargerich under the Creative Commons License.


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  • On October 5th, Chrysler Group LLCannounced some brand and commercial changes to the Dodge brand of vehicles.


    According to Dodge’s press release, the new Dodge will be split into two organizations: the Dodge Ram Brand and Dodge Car Brand. “This reorganization will allow us to protect and develop the unique nature of the product offerings within the Dodge Brand,” Sergio Marchionne, CEO, Chrysler Group LLC said.

    Fred Diaz Jr. has been appointed president and CEO of the Dodge Ram Brand with profit and loss responsibility for the Dodge Ram product portfolio


    Ralph Gilles will now serve as president and CEO of Dodge Car Brand with profit and loss responsibility for the Dodge Car product portfolio.


    Photo courtesy of Dodge.

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  • A New Jersey man has been sentenced in the U.S District Court in Newark after pleading guilty to impersonating a federal motor carrier inspector.  Hugo Daniel Solana was sentenced to one year of probation and ordered to pay a $100 special assessment and a $500 fine for his offense.


    Solana, owner of the Union, N.J. based consulting firm Redsol Safety Corporation, appeared at several trucking firms in the Newark area, where he flashed a gold badge and identified himself as an inspector.  He would then produce a business card bearing the United States Department of Transportation seal, according to the DOT’s Office of Inspector General.  Solana would then threaten to arrest people at the trucking companies for perceived violations, and would later return to advise the victim companies that they could hire Redsol Safety to resolve the issue.


    Solana was caught when he identified himself as an inspector and produced his gold badge during an interview with a DOT-OIG case agent.  He was arrested later by DOT-OIG agents, and his fraudulent badge confiscated.


    Photo courtesy of banspy under the Creative Commons License.

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