• The U.S. Geological Survey issued a warning this week that severe mudslides are likely this winter in Southern California foothill communities that have recently been devastated by brush fires.  The Los Angeles Times reported that scientists have identified Pacoima Canyon, Big Tujunga Canyon, the Arroyo Seco, the West Fork of the San Gabriel River and Devils Canyon as being at high risk with an 80% chance of flows.


    In some conditions, mudflows could contain up to 100,000 cubic yards of dirt and debris.  That’s enough material to cover a football field to a depth of 60 feet.

    The threat of mudslides is made even greater by the potential for earthquakes in the area.  That possibility has been made apparent recently by mudslides triggered by earthquakes in Indonesia, which leveled an entire valley full of small villages.


    The Red Cross has provided some helpful tips for driving in areas with the potential for mudslides:

    • Stay alert and awake. Many debris-flow fatalities occur when people are sleeping.
    • Listen to a NOAA Weather Radio or portable, battery-powered radio or television for warnings of intense rainfall.
    • Be aware that intense, short bursts of rain may be particularly dangerous, especially after longer periods of heavy rainfall and damp weather.
    • If you are in areas susceptible to mudslides and debris flows, consider leaving if it is safe to do so.
    • Remember that driving during an intense storm can be hazardous. If you remain, move to a second story if possible. Staying out of the path of a mudslide or debris flow saves lives.
    • Listen for any unusual sounds that might indicate moving debris, such as trees cracking or boulders knocking together. A trickle of flowing or falling mud or debris may precede larger landslides. Moving debris can flow quickly and sometimes without warning.
    • If you are near a stream or channel, be alert for any sudden increase or decrease in water flow and for a change from clear to muddy water. Such changes may indicate mudslide activity upstream, so be prepared to move quickly. Don’t delay! Save yourself, not your belongings.
    • Be especially alert when driving. Embankments along roadsides are particularly susceptible to mudslides. Watch the road for collapsed pavement, mud, fallen rocks, and other indications of possible debris flows.

    If any drivers in your fleet are traveling in vulnerable areas, make sure they take this advice to heart and be safe!


    Photo courtesy of crawfish head under the Creative Commons License.

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  • By examining claims data, State Farm Insurance has estimated that between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2009, 2.4 million cars collided with deer in the U.S.  That’s 10,000 collisions per month, and a full 15% higher than the number from only five years prior.  Most collisions take place in the late months of the year and at night.


    Among the states where deer collisions are the most significant (at least 7,000 per year), New Jersey and Nebraska have had the largest increase in percentage, with 54% each.  Kansas was a close runner-up at 41%.


    For the third year running, West Virginia is the state where the risk of hitting a deer is the highest per vehicle. State Farm places the odds of hitting a deer in West Virginia at 1 in 39.

    The average property damage cost of each incident is $3,050, and deer collisions cause more than 150 road fatalities in the U.S. each year.


    “State Farm has been committed to auto safety for several decades and that’s why we want to call attention to potential hazards like this one,” said Laurette Stiles, State Farm vice president of strategic resources. “We hope our updated information will inspire motorists to make safe decisions.”


    Not surprisingly, the state in which you are least likely to hit a deer is Hawaii, where the odds are 1 in 9,931.


    Photo courtesy of bertdennisonphotography under the Creative Commons License.

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  • A new report by the Sustainable Transportation and Communities group at the Center for Automotive Research (CAR), a Michigan-based nonprofit research group, has examined the benefits of converting business fleets from gasoline to alternative-fuel vehicles such as compressed natural gas and gas-electric hybrids.


    The main idea that the report supports is that turning corporate and other business vehicle fleets “green” provides the opportunity to put large numbers of more environmentally friendly vehicles onto the roads at once.  The results of doing so would be both environmentally and economically positive.


    Replacing 15,000 current gas-powered fleet vehicles with gas-powered and hybrid vehicles over a 10 year period could reduce gasoline consumption by more than 49 million gallons and cut carbon dioxide emissions by 211,000 metric tons in that period.  Those reductions would be the same as simply removing 38,000 gasoline powered vehicles from the road for an entire year.


    The CAR study used AT&T’s vehicle replacement program as a case study for their report.  The AT&T program will also help to support an average of 1,000 vehicle manufacturing jobs each year until 2013.

    “This example of corporate leadership, if followed by a significant portion of other public and private fleets, could have a huge impact on the release of greenhouse gases and significantly reduce the dependence on foreign oil,” said Kim Hill, director of the Sustainable Transportation and Communities group at CAR and the study’s lead. “For example, the emissions equal to 600,000 vehicles and the consumption of 15 million barrels of oil could be eliminated if 25% of the fleets had similar programs. In addition, demand for these types of advanced technology vehicles by the nation’s fleets could spur a growth in domestic green jobs.”


    If the country is serious about increasing the number of fuel-efficient vehicles on the road in the near future, the fleets of America represent the best opportunity in the shortest timeframe, Hill said.


    Photo courtesy of CLF under the Creative Commons License.

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  • Text ban while drivingThere’s been a lot of talk about texting and driving lately.  Now a major step has been taken in the war against this distracting practice by President Obama, who signed an executive order on September 30th banning the practice among all federal employees.


    The order covers federal employees whenever they are using government-provided vehicles or phones or conducting government business.  In addition to this order, the government plans to issue a similar ban to drivers and truckers who travel across state lines and may even ban them from using cell phones altogether in non-emergencies.


    Transportation secretary Ray LaHood says the new orders are intended to offer some relief from what he called “a deadly epidemic” of distracted driving.


    “This meeting is probably the most important meeting in the history of the Department of Transportation,” Mr. LaHood said at the end of a two-day conference in Washington, D.C. He added that the order to restrict text messaging by federal employees behind the wheel “sends a very clear signal to the American public that distracted driving is dangerous and unacceptable.” 


    President Obama’s order is immediately effective and applies to 4.5 million federal employees.  The order for commercial truckers and other drivers will take longer to implement and will be more nuanced to fit the needs of computer-based systems in some trucks.  The distracted driving conference provided a forum for a range of interests hoping to raise awareness of distracted driving and discuss how to fix the problem. The speakers included Senators Charles E. Schumer, (Democrat of New York), and Robert Menendez,  (Democrat of New Jersey), who have introduced legislation to force states to ban texting while driving or lose federal highway funds.


    Photo courtesy of indyplanets under the Creative Commons License.

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  • With the Ford Crown Victoria going out of production, police fleets around the country need a new car for future patrol cars. Now Chevrolet has provided one answer: The new 2011 Chevy Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle.  The new Caprice is a full-sized rear wheel drive sedan that will be available in both V-6 and V-8 models, with a range of specialized equipment for law enforcement.


    Chevrolet announced the rollout at the annual International Association of Chiefs of Police convention in Denver. The Caprice PPV will be available for order by law enforcement agencies next year and will begin production in 2011.


    The Chevy Caprice has a history in law enforcement.  The old Caprice joined America’s police forces in 1976, and continued to serve until it was scrapped in 1996 when GM discontinued body-on-frame designs.


    The new Caprice PPV has been augmented for law enforcement duty with modern equipment and new features:

    • 6.0L V-8 with fuel-saving Active Fuel Management technology and E-85. (V-6 engine will also be offered, beginning in the 2012 model year)
    • Optional front-seat-only side curtain air bags.
    • Two trunk-mounted batteries, with one dedicated to powering various police equipment.
    • Designed for five-passenger seating, providing the upper-center section of the dashboard is used for equipment mounting without the concern of air bag deployment interference.
    • Compatibility with in-dash touch-screen computer technology.
    • Special front seats designed for the long-term comfort of officers, including space to accommodate the bulk of a typical equipment belt.

    The new Caprice is based on GM’s global rear-wheel drive family of vehicles that includes theCamaro.  It has the longest wheelbase of the series (118.5 inches) plus a four-wheel independent suspension that allows for super-responsive driving characteristics critical to police.


    The Caprice’s 6.0L V-8 is rated at an estimated 355 horsepower (265 kW) with an estimated 384 lb.-ft. of torque, and is backed by a six-speed automatic transmission that is performance-calibrated for police duty.


    Photo courtesy of netcarshow.com

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  • Silver Comes In First for Auto PaintFor the ninth year in a row, silver is the number one color choice for new cars and trucks, said paint supplier PPG Industries this Thursday at its annual Automotive Color Trend Show.


    According to PPG Industries, one out of every four vehicles in North America is silver. Manager of color styling Jane Harrington says that’s an increase of 5% since last year.


    “Silver looks great on any car, shows off all of the lines and helps people blend into the crowd,” Harrington said.


    Since silver began its stint as auto paint champion nine years ago, the technology for auto painting has grown by leaps and bounds.  The silver paint applied to vehicles today is vastly different than its older counterpart.  Compounds in the paint, pigment sizes, and even the size of paint flakes have changed to allow for much richer and deeper color.


    This year’s study of colors included a breakdown of colors by vehicle segments:

    -57% of compact cars are silver or black; 21% are blue or red.

    -Blue and red make up only 17% of the midsize segment and 12% of the luxury segment.

    -On the other extreme, 40% of all luxury vehicles sold in the U.S. are black.

    -Europeans, who have a stronger small-car culture, have even more color variety in the compact segment, with 37% of the small cars in red, green, brown or blue, according to PPG.


    Susan Swek, group chief designer of color material design at Ford Motor Co, said that colors may change, but they still have a lasting impact on buyers.


    “Over time, different colors will sell and become popular,” she said.  “But some things won’t change, when you buy a vehicle, people always go, ‘What color did you buy?’


    Photo courtesy of schoschie under the Creative Commons License.

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  • The City of Baltimore police department had several of its patrol cars returned to service after a fuel problem left a large portion of the fleet incapacitated.  It is suspected that the unleaded tank at the city-run substation may have accidentally been filled with diesel fuel.


    About 72 cars, or one-third of the total patrol car fleet, were affected over the weekend of September 19th.  Lab tests are being conducted to determine the exact nature of the problem.


    Problems with the patrol cars first appeared on the afternoon of September 20th. It only took a few hours until the city began diverting cars away from fueling at the 24-hour substation. A spokeswoman for the general services agency said that 62 of the cars had been fixed and ready for service by the evening on Monday, September 21st.


    However, it seems that the city’s police fueling station was not the lone source of trouble.  A fleet manager from the Maryland Transit Administration reported that 17 of his buses broke down on the same weekend.  The buses’ fuel was drained and replaced with new fuel, but the problem was not fixed.  The buses were not up and running again until technicians worked through the weekend to fix them.


    The Baltimore Police Department said that their operations over the weekend were strained, but not significantly affected.”


    Photo courtesy of davidsonscott15 under the Creative Commons License.

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  • In another sign that the auto industry may be seeing signs of relief from its economic woes, Ford Motor Company reported this week that in September 2009, sales of fleet vehicles rose 23%.  However, retail sales dropped by 14%.


    Of all Ford brands, “the 2010 Taurus in the last couple of months has had the best sales figures,” according to astatement by George Pipas, Ford sales analyst.  Ford’s September sales report showed a total sale of 5,077 Taurus vehicles, up 60% from September 2008.


    In addition to the Taurus’ success, the F-Series truck saw a second consecutive sales increase in September, with numbers up 4%.


    This continues an upward trend in fleet sales for Ford.  In August, the automaker posted fleet sales of 176,323- up 17% from August 2008.


    Photo courtesy of resedabear under the Creative Commons License.

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  • Saturn, GM’s brand of small cars once billed as a new and different kind of car company, is next in line for the chopping block after the demise of Pontiac and Oldsmobile.


    GM reached a tentative agreement to sell the Saturn brand to former race car driver and auto magnate Roger Penske in June.  But Wednesday, Penske Automotive Group Inc. announced that it is walking away from the deal due to an inability to find a manufacturer to make the cars after GM ceases production of new Saturn models at the end of 2011.  GM followed Penske’s announcement with their own, saying that the automaker would simply close down the brand.


    The Saturn brand was set up in 1990 to combat the growing popularity of Japanese imports. Now the owners and employees of Saturn dealers nationwide are frantically looking for ways to remain in business and save approximately 13,000 jobs.


    “I find this hard to believe,” said Carl Galeana, owner of two Saturn dealerships in suburban Detroit. “Everyone’s been saying we’re right at the goal line.”


    The deal between Penske and GM collapsed Wednesday, after an unidentified manufacturer told Penske that its board had rejected a deal to make new Saturn vehicles.  GM had agreed to continue making 3 Saturn models after 2011, but all new vehicles would be Penske’s responsibility.


    Penske spokesman Anthony Pordon said there is little if any chance that the talks could be reopened. Without another supplier in place before the deal was signed, Penske couldn’t run the risk of taking on Saturn, Pordon said.


    GM will stop making Saturns as soon as possible, but no layoffs are expected, said spokeswoman Sherrie Childers Arb. “Those plants produce products for other brands, and we think we can increase volume on those products that will meet market demand,” Childers Arb said.

    Galeana said he’s heard nothing yet from GM or Saturn, but if the plan is to phase out the brandand cut the products, he’ll have to come up with other options.


    “I assumed if you’re at the goal line, those things would have been figured out,” he said Wednesday. “We’re going to try to put some plan Bs in place at this point.”


    Galeana said he’s concerned for his employees and still hopes the deal can be resurrected.
    “It’s tough out there, but we’ll keep fighting. That’s all we can do.”


    Photo courtesy of multitrack under the Creative Commons License.

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  • Electric and hybrid vehicles are often praised for making very little noise on the road.  But now some groups, including advocates for blind pedestrians, are claiming that the lack of significant engine noise is dangerous to those who rely on it to notice approaching cars.


    To address these concerns and rectify the problem, Japanese and American transportation agencies may soon mandate artificial engine noises for electric and hybrid cars.  Now automakers that produce the offending vehicles must decide what an electric car should sound like.


    “We fought for so long to get rid of that noisy engine sound,” said Toshiyuki Tabata, an auto engineer and Nissan’s noise and vibration expert. “With electric cars, we took a completely different approach and listened to composers talk music theory.”  Three years ago, Tabata was asked to recreate the sound of a gas engine for just such a purpose, but says he was taken aback by the idea of looking back in time to a traditional sound.


    “We decided that if were going to do this, if we have to make sound, then we’re going to make it beautiful and futuristic,” Tabata said.


    After consulting several Japanese film score composers, Tabata’s team of six members came up with a new engine sound: a high-pitched sound reminiscent of the flying cars portrayed in the movie Blade Runner.

    “We wanted something a bit different, something closer to the world of art,” Tabata said.  He also said that the system would operate until the vehicle reached 12 miles per hour, at which point tire noise and engagement of hybrid gasoline engines would be sufficient to warn any pedestrians.


    While no serious injuries have been linked to the issue among blind pedestrians, advocates say that prevention is important.


    “This isn’t just an issue for the blind,” said Suzuki Takayuki, a spokesman for the Japan Federation of the Blind. “There’s also a danger to children and the elderly.”


    The plan to bring artificial noise to electric vehicles is also being considered in the United States, where advocacy groups have been in close contact with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to address the problem.  The NHTSA is analyzing its data and will issue a final report by January.


    Even though regulators haven’t issued rules or guidelines, Nissan may equip its new Leaf electric with a sound system in time for the car’s introduction next year. The system will increase the car’s sticker price, said Tabata, while declining to provide an estimate. Nissan hasn’t announced the model’s pricing.  “We don’t want to destroy the brand of the electric car,” he said. “We want to have something that will enhance its image.”


    Photo courtesy of VirtualErn under the Creative Commons License.

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