• Toyota will soon be introducing breathalyzer technology in its commercial vehicles with the intent of giving managers better control of their fleets, reports AutoWeek.

    The unit, which Toyota developed in tandem with its truck subsidiary Hino Motors Ltd., is mounted on a vehicle’s instrument panel and is about the size of an average cellular phone.  It contains a portable alcohol testing device and a small digital camera.

    When a driver enters their vehicle, the camera takes a picture of their face.  A breath test for alcohol is then administered, and if the driver is over the limit, they will either be warned or the vehicle’s ignition will lock.  In either case, the system will contact the fleet’s administrator to notify them of the situation.

    In addition to making sure drivers are safe behind the wheel, the camera component allows the fleet administrator to confirm that the person taking the breath test is the authorized driver of the vehicle.

    Road tests are currently being performed by Toyota in 30 commercial vehicles.  There are no plans to implement the system in passenger vehicles.

    Photo courtesy of hyku under the Creative Commons License.

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  • Google Maps has a new feature that utilizes the functionality of GPS-enabled smart phones to measure traffic conditions on major US highways and arterials.  The traffic stats are compiled from whatever data is available at the time based on the speed and direction that users are traveling.  The more people using the service at a given time, the more accurate the reports become.

    The service is provided entirely free of charge with Google Maps, but some consumers are concerned that the information being used to track their cars could be used for other purposes.  Google has added a host of privacy features to the application to assuage these fears; data is combined from multiple phones before reaching Google, making it hard to identify any one phone from another, and all of the information is anonymous in nature.  In addition, users are easily able to opt out of sending their location data to Google.  As a final security measure, Google’s software determines the start and end points of every trip it tracks and deletes them, so that nobody can track where a vehicle came from or where it ended up.  After deletion, not even Google will have the data.

    Several phones come with Google Maps pre-installed such as the Palm Pre, MyTouch 3G, and Apple’s iPhone.  With such a large user base, the traffic monitoring software should quickly become a central feature of Google Maps.

    Photo courtesy of dannysullivan under the Creative Commons License.

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  • As of September 1st, fees at the New York Department of Motor Vehicles have increased by 25%, according to PostStar.com.  For some local fleet owners, this change has the potential to hit them very hard in the pocket.

    Residents of New York will now have to pay $64.50 for the standard eight-year driver’s license fee as opposed to $50.  Registration for an average passenger vehicle for a two-year period will now cost $55, up from $44 last year.  Commercial vehicle registration fees will increase from $3 to $52 depending on the weight of the vehicle.

    In addition to these increases, all vehicles registered or renewed after April 2010 will be required to purchase new license plates for a $25 fee.

    The DMV has stated that the agency’s fees were raised in order to help reduce the state’s budget deficit.  Any extra money made from the new fees will finance infrastructure projects.

    Tom Mailey, spokesman for Stewart’s Shops in Sarasota Springs, said the increased fees and new license plate costs have added to the amount of money his company loses to the state. With a fleet of over 100 vehicles, the new fees could really add up.

    “We’re already in a position where we estimate about a third of every dollar that’s spent in one of our shops goes out in taxes,” Mailey said.

    Photo courtesy of Mrs. Flinger under the Creative Commons License.

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  • Much of the money used to save General Motors and Chrysler from collapsing will never be made back, according to a report issued by the Congressional Oversight Panel this Wednesday.

    “Although taxpayers may recover some portion of their investment in Chrysler and GM, it is unlikely they will recover the entire amount,” the report says, citing estimates from the Treasury Department and Congressional Budget Office.

    Congress created the panel, which is headed by Harvard University professor Elizabeth Warren, last year to oversee government bailouts of failing businesses.  When GM and Chrysler found themselves on the brink of collapse this past spring, the government effectively forced both companies into bankruptcy and gave them large loans to stay afloat.  Now the automakers have lost billions of dollars in debt and are rebuilding.  The government has given GM and Chrysler more than $60 billion in aid to date.

    The Treasury estimates
    that about $23 billion of the initial loans to the companies “will be subjected to much lower recoveries”.  Reports continued on to say that $5.4 billion in loans to Chrysler are “highly unlikely to be recovered.”

    “The initial loans made last fall as the industry was imploding and when no restructuring plan was in place are not likely to be repaid in full,” Warren said during a conference call with reporters.

    Since the loans have mostly been converted to stock, it is difficult to tell how much will really be recouped. “The American taxpayer is now an equity investor in Chrysler and GM,” Warren said. “And the return on its investment depends on what those companies are worth in a year or two.”

    The US Government currently owns 10% of Chrysler and 61% of GM.

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  • In 2009, 84 vehicles earned the title of “top safety pick” from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the largest number for a single year since the award’s inception.  Now the government and the IIHS are making some changes that will make it tougher for vehicles to receive top marks on the test.

    The IIHS, a division of the insurance industry that tests for safety standards, will not give the award to any car model year 2010 or later that does not earn a “good” rating on its new roof strength test, designed to test the car’s ability to withstand a rollover.  In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will be introducing a more rigorous crash safety testing system for post-2011 models.  The new tests will include a tough new side-impact test, which involves crashing the vehicles into a pole, and a completely new overall safety score.

    With the new testing standards being rolled out, fewer cars will earn five stars in the NHTSA’s one-to-five grading system, and will also have a harder time winning the top safety pick award.

    The switch has the potential to be confusing for consumers, including fleet managers, as safety ratings begin to change for new cars.  Automakers have done so well at engineering safety features that most cars are above average, so the bar is being raised to separate the extraordinary performers from the pack and demonstrate the difference between models.  Consumers may see lower scores for many vehicles, but they will not suddenly be less safe. For example, the best performer on the new test so far is the Smart Fortwo, which withstands 5.41 times the vehicle’s weight on the roof.  The worst performer was the Chevrolet Aveo, which still held 3.09 times its own weight, more than double the industry standard.

    One issue with the new standards is that the two agencies are not instituting their changes in the same way or at the same time, so prospective car buyers will not be sure of how to factor safety ratings into their decisions.  Consumers will have to pay careful attention to the specifics of their vehicle’s ratings until a unified system falls into place.

    While the IIHS doesn’t use any one test as the benchmark for their ratings, the new roof-crush test is intended to make a point. Its president, Adrian Lund, said in a statement that the government’s “leisurely phase-in of the new standard means roofs won’t have to get stronger right away, so we plan to continue rating vehicle roof strength for the foreseeable future. We want to reward manufacturers who are ahead of their competition when it comes to providing protection in rollover crashes.”

    Photo courtesy of The Pug Father under the Creative Commons License.

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  • Ford Motor Company has announced that it will build its own diesel engine to be installed in the next generation on the F-series Super Duty pickup truck, ending its relationship with Navistar International Corp.

    The 6.7-liter turbocharged V-8 diesel will be manufactured at Ford’s Chihuahua engine plant in Mexico.  It is planned to be included with the 2011 model-year Super Duty.  The new engine promises better fuel efficiency while still delivering more torque and greater horsepower.  In addition to these major improvements, Ford claims that the new engine can last for 250,000 miles without any major problems.

    “This all-new diesel engine has been so extensively tested both in the lab and in the real world that we’re confident we’re giving our customers the most reliable and productive powertrain available today,” said Derrick Kuzak, group vice president in charge of global product development for Ford.

    Navistar International has been Ford’s exclusive supplier of diesel engines for the Super Duty line since 1979.  In 2003, the engine supplied by Navistar received a host of quality complaints, prompting Ford to sue them to recoup warranty costs.  Navistar then countersued Ford, blaming them for the issue.  A new engine was produced for 2007 forward that fixed the issues, but Ford announced last year that the relationship between the two companies would end after the 2010 model year.

    Analyst Jim Hall of 2953 Analytics LLP in Birmingham said the move makes sense.

    “If you buy an engine from outside, that money leaves the company,” he said. “Ford has gotten a lot of experience from its diesel joint-venture with PSA Peugeot Citroën in Europe. They should have the experience and capability to do it.”

    The new engine will be ready to meet strict new emissions standards for diesels that take effect in 2011.

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  • A recent survey conducted by the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization and South Jersey Traffic Safety Alliance found that only 72% of commercial vehicle drivers wear seat belts.  Male drivers were found to be less likely to buckle up than female drivers.

    The rate of use for male drivers in the survey was only 71%, compared to a rate of 89% among women.  The average regional rate of seatbelt use for passenger vehicles is 90%. The lowest rate of use among commercial drivers was in concrete trucks, which topped out at 32%. Tow trucks (54%), trash trucks (57%), and tanker trucks (59%) were the next lowest.

    In order to be counted in the survey, vehicles were required to be the size of a single unit truck or larger and had to carry a business logo somewhere on the vehicle.

    The survey also found that commercial drivers were more likely to use a cell phone while driving. Commercial drivers used their phones 6% of the time, while passenger vehicle drivers only used theirs for 4%.

    The full report can be found by by visiting the SJTSA website.  Seat belts prevent up to $100 million in annual safety costs per one percent increase in use and reduce the risk of traffic fatalities by 60-70%, so please remember to use your seatbelt every time you get behind the wheel and make sure your fleet does the same.

    Photo courtesy of Sarah Giesecke-Green under the Creative Commons License.

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  • Everybody wants something extraordinary for their special day.  The Rev. Darrell Best of Shelbyville, Illinois now offers a new option: a wedding on wheels.

    Reverend Best had his 1942 American La France firetruck converted into a mobile chapel on a recent edition of Country Music Television’sTrick My Truck”.  The truck now has real stained glass windows, a functioning pipe organ, and two wooden pews.

    Best recently took his portable church to the Illinois State Fair, where couples paid a fee of $100 dollars to get married on the truck. “It fits me, the bride, the groom, the best man and the maid of honor,” said Best. “It gets a little crowded, but it works.”

    Best said that he decided to convert the truck to give people without a church of their own to have a special wedding service.  Non-Illinois residents aren’t left out, either; for $2 per mile plus a $200 fee, he will drive the church anywhere you like.

    We hope it is only a matter of time until the mobile chapel business becomes its own fleet!

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  • The economic slowdown has been tough on trucking companies, but there are signs that things may be improving in the near future.

    Employment among for-hire trucking companies dropped 0.3% on a seasonally adjusted basis in August – the smallest decline the industry has seen in over a year. Since August 2008, payroll employment in these companies is down 9.5%, according to preliminary figures released September 4th by the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    With about 4,000 jobs lost in July, the trucking industry has seen a total job loss of about 6% since the end of 2008.  Layoffs since July 2008 total 131,500.  The numbers presented in the BLS study only reflect payroll employment in for-hire trucking. Other trucking-related jobs, such as drivers for private fleets, are not taken into account.

    In July, the rate of lob losses in the trucking industry was slightly higher than that of the rest of the US economy. Nonfarm payroll employment fell by 216,000 jobs or 0.2% from July to August on a seasonally adjusted basis. Compared to August 2008, nonfarm payroll employment is down 4.3%.

    Employment in the trucking industry peaked in January 2007, with more than 1.45 million jobs. Since then, for-hire trucking companies have lost 13.4% of their employees, a total of 194,000 jobs.

    Photo courtesy of nightthree under the Creative Commons License.

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  • Ford Motor Co. recently met with the heads of several of the nation’s largest police fleets in Dearborn, MI to talk about the future of police vehicles.

    The Crown Victoria, an invaluable asset to police fleets for years, is being discontinued.  Ford has not sold the Crown Vic to consumers since 2007, but will continue to produce the cars as fleet vehicles until 2011.  Although the Crown Victoria is on its way out, Ford is committed to remaining an integral part of America’s police force.

    Ford’s major offer to the nation’s police fleets has been the new Taurus sedan.  While it may seem like an excellent opportunity for an upgrade, the Taurus and other newer cars lack some of the features that made the Crown Victoria so effective.  The Crown Vic was a body-on-frame car, which made it extremely tough and easy to repair in the event of a collision.  It has a column shifter, which frees up the center console area for guns and electronic equipment.  It also boasts enough rear space for a spacious trunk while still accommodating two suspects in the back seat.

    In addition to these major features, most aftermarket police equipment is built specifically to fit inside a Crown Victoria.  When some fleets attempted to switch their fleets over to Chevrolet Impalas, they found that their communications equipment would not fit in the vehicles. The Crown Victoria also has rear-wheel drive, which allows for greater handling and more even weight distribution.

    With these features missing from many of its current models, Ford has yet to decide on what vehicle will be chosen to replace the Crown Victoria when it finally retires.

    “We’ve got some big decisions to make, and we’re making them,” said Jim Farley, head of global sales, marketing and service for Ford. “We have no intention of walking away from our share of that market.”

    Other companies are anxious to take over Ford’s contract with police fleets; other big automakers are eyeing the prize, but the Canadian Auto Workers and some small start-ups are also looking to provide law enforcement agencies with the perfect police cruiser.  Ford however, is determined to stay in the game, and not just for the money: Ford Americas President Mark Fields says “Every municipality has police, so you have Ford product everywhere across the country.  It reinforces that Ford is part of the community.”

    Photo courtesy of banspy under the Creative Commons License.

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